All it takes is a cool, winter day out on Tomales Bay, right after a storm passes and the water turns to glass, “when it just feels like home to me,” says Aluxa Lalicker. It is where she learned to ply the waters as a kayak guide and where she mastered the art of shucking oysters, a life skill she passed down to her younger sister, Jazmine. They might have been born in the Yucatan and raised in Oklahoma, but The Oyster Girls were conceived in the briny waters of Tomales Bay.
“I call it the slippery slope upward,” Aluxa says. “It really is an obsession or an addiction.”
After shucking oysters on the beach for clients while working as a kayak guide on the bay, Aluxa was hooked. Transporting that experience to the Bay Area party circuit, she and Jazmine took their show on the road in 2007 as The Oyster Girls, catering events everywhere from wineries to fire stations. Quick to show off their knife skills, the sisters were often the life of the party. Their look was classy and sophisticated—much like the vintage girl lounging on a half-shell that makes up their business logo.
Everywhere the sisters went, people learned more about Tomales Bay – and more about the mystique of the oyster as an aphrodisiac, a fascination that goes back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. For Jazmine, part of the fun is “taking the sexuality and turning it into education, and showcasing the oyster for the femininity that it has, which I think before wasn’t really showcased before.”
The sisters’ nuanced approach is a welcome counterpoint to the stereotypical bro oyster shucker. “The number one biggest misconception with oysters is that it takes some big dude wearing, like, a rubber apron and rubber boots and really dirty gloves that have never been washed before. And they’ve got to power through this hard, really hard, dirty, gritty work,” Aluxa says. “It’s a huge misunderstanding,” adds Jazmine. “Because oysters are so delicate, and it takes so much finesse to open them.”
Another misconception is that an oyster party will turn into a hazmat scene. “I’ve had people gasp, like, ‘You’re going to wear that and shuck oysters?’” Aluxa says. “Or they ask, ‘Do I need to Saran-Wrap the bar area?’ They want to Saran-Wrap the whole room.”
“It’s not a crime scene,” Jazmine jokes. Quick to finish each other’s sentences, the two sisters were born in Cancun, Mexico, where their parents – their father is Mexican and their mother is from Oklahoma – ran a bed-and-breakfast. Not long after a hurricane ravaged the Yucatan peninsula, the family relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was in Sooner country, where, as a teenager, Aluxa tasted her first oyster. Her grandfather wanted to show her, “how to act on a date and what to expect on a date,” she remembers. “So I went out and bought a little black dress, and my grandpa picked me up in his truck and we went out and ate oysters.”
The briny, salty flavors blew her mind. Over a decade later, she migrated to Sonoma State University and was working for Blue Waters Kayaking on Tomales Bay when a friend taught her how to shuck an oyster. The sisters knew from the beginning that it would be important to create lasting relationships with local oyster farmers, especially Hog Island Oyster Co., Tomales Bay Oyster Company, and Drakes Bay Oyster Company. “I’ve always seen The Oyster Girls as a bridge between the oyster farmers and the party world,” Aluxa says.
Drakes Bay Oyster Company co-owner Ginny Cummings taught them that a handshake was all it took to do business. To this day, The Oyster Girls buy half their bivalves from the company, which pivoted to farming oysters in Baja, Mexico after closing down their operations in Point Reyes National Seashore in 2014. “They found that niche that no one else was doing at the time,” says Cummings of the sisters. “They had sass, but they also had class.”
Those relationships came in handy when the Lalickers opened The Shuckery on the ground floor of Hotel Petaluma in 2016. Inspired by a trip to New Orleans, where hotel oyster bars are a way of life, the two carved out a 32-seat oyster bar that goes through 600-1,200 oysters a day. Jazmine, who once worked as a server at Petaluma’s Central Market, now primarily focuses on the restaurant, while Aluxa books Oyster Girl parties. Both businesses are starting to bounce back from the pandemic, along with the oyster industry as a whole.
During the restaurant hiatus, many of the meaty mollusks sat in the water for an extra 12 to 18 months, growing larger than usual. “I’ve never seen Kumamotos so big,” Aluxa says.
When it comes to local oyster terroir, Aluxa can get super nerdy.
“An oyster that was eating zooplankton is almost like a wine that came from stainless steel,” she says. “It’s going to be really bright, briny— steely and metallic. And an oyster feeding on phytoplankton, it’s still gonna have the salt of the bay, but it’s gonna have a sweeter finish, like seagrass and melon – even though it’s the same oyster from the same bay, at the same time of year.”
Still amazed that many locals take it for granted, both sisters cherish this time of year on Tomales Bay. “It’s a little-known secret, but it’s the most beautiful time of the year,” Aluxa says. “Sure, you get rain. But then you get four days of calm weather, with the water like glass. The migrating birds move in. The anchovies come in, and the whales are migrating. Californians eat most of their oysters in the summer, with outdoor barbecued oysters – it’s a very California thing. But really, I think the oysters are the best this time of year.”
Jazmine and Aluxa Lalicker’s oyster bar, The Shuckery, is located inside the Hotel Petaluma, 100 Washington St., Petaluma. 707-981-7891, theshuckeryca.com. For catering and events, visit theoystergirls.com.
How to Throw Your Own Oyster Party
Inspired by local oyster experts Jazmine and Aluxa Lalicker, we’re celebrating the season by honoring winter oysters. So grab a shucking board and some Sonoma County seafood and read on to learn about how to set up the perfect oyster party.
It may seem obvious but…
Make sure you invite people who love oysters, says Aluxa Lalicker, co-owner of The Oyster Girls and The Shuckery restaurant in Petaluma. You don’t want to throw a party where you’re shucking oysters and no one’s eating them – that’s no fun for anyone.
Out of the shell
Decide whether to hire a professional oyster shucker or do it yourself. If you’ve never brandished an oyster knife, practice ahead of time. Jazmine and Aluxa Lalicker have a how-to video at theoystergirls.com.
Source your oysters
Figure out if you’re going to get a bag of the same oysters, or do a tasting of several varieties. The Oyster Girls have oysters for pick-up and party kit trays to go. Or, if you’re driving to Tomales Bay to pick up oysters, bring a cooler, and don’t make too many pit stops on the way home. You don’t want your oysters to sit for long in the car.
Set up the bar
Don’t banish your oyster bar to a far corner of the party—choose a central location. Next to the alcohol is often a good idea, say the sisters. Picnic tables and wine barrels easily showcase big oyster platters.
You’ll need a shucking board, oyster knife, glove, apron, and trash can. Also some crushed ice and platters if you’d like to display your oysters after shucking.
Wine, cocktails, tequila shots — all good!
“Really, it comes down to whatever makes you happy,” says Jazmine Lalicker of what to drink with your oysters. Wines made in stainless steel and neutral oak pair beautifully, especially Chablis and Chenin Blanc—and, of course, Champagne.
At The Shuckery, Jazmine serves a popular Huntress cocktail, with gin, vermouth blend, Campari, golden raisins, toasted oak, and Angelica root. And don’t forget: “The oyster can always be the salt to your tequila shot,” Aluxa says.