The Rise Of The Popup Event: An Interview With The Founder Of East Boston Oysters

Alexis Cervasio has created a successful events business out of the element of surprise and delight.

At a time where people use social media, apps, and reviews to carefully decide where to eat and what experiences are worth their time and money, East Boston Oysters (EBO), Cervasio’s popup dinner series – always held in “a secret location” – consistently sells out within minutes of announcing the date of their next event.

Cervasio, who is one of Tripleseat’s 2018 EventCamp speakers (her session is titled The Rise of the Pop Up: How to Create an Event Experience), has created a unique space in the industry that is creative and inspirational. Her mission is to make luxury ingredients accessible to everyone at a reasonable cost but in the most unexpected way.

You can experience an East Boston Oysters popup next week – Cervasio is holding a special popup in the Boston area on Tuesday, April 10 from 7-9 pm. The secret location will be announced to ticketholders via email 24 hours in advance. Tickets are $90 and can be purchased on EBO’s Eventbee site.

We sat down with Cervasio to find out how she started and what it takes to make this concept thrive.

How did you come up with East Boston Oysters? Was there a moment? Or did it come to you over time?
It definitely happened over time. I always had the entrepreneurial spirit within me. When I was little I used to charge kids in the neighborhood $5 to come into my driveway where my cousin Deven and I would make different areas of attractions like a haunted house in the bushes and a popcorn station on the porch. So, it has been a combination of my hustling creative spirit that I always had, mixed in with my passion for feeding people oysters. My cousins and I used to go to the beach with coolers filled with oysters and littlenecks. We thought it was very normal (but badass). We’d shuck in our teeny bikinis and share them with our neighbors. People would gravitate towards us – they thought it was amazing. I couldn’t believe how in awe they were over something so normal to me. This memory stayed very vivid in my brain. When I moved to East Boston, I’d walk around wondering “Why isn’t more happening here?” The popup concept was appealing to me because it didn’t have to be an everyday thing. My son was 4 at the time so the thought of opening a restaurant or something with such commitment was very scary to me. He goes to his dad’s on Sundays, so I thought, “That’s when I’ll do it.”

What is your mission?
To flip the cookie-cutter dining experience on its head and show people that you don’t even need to sit in a chair to eat a really great meal – you can sit on the floor, on a floor pillow. Or, “Look, here’s a shitload of caviar in front of your eyes.” You don’t need to pay $200 for a small spoon feeding. “Here’s a chip, why don’t you just dip it in there and take a massive scoop instead.” Also meeting the fine farmers behind the oysters. This has been a huge part of our identity. We love getting them off of the farm and into East Boston shucking their bivalves. You know, there was that very large movement of farm to table and no one really ever talked about the oyster farmers. They are some of the hardest working humans on the earth. It’s mesmerizing.

How can restaurants add the pop-up experience to their events?
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. A popup doesn’t always have to be a big-to-do-ticketed event. It can be as simple as incorporating one local ingredient or product onto your menu. For instance, we work closely with Buenas (a Boston-based line of South American-inspired products) and their magical Pebre sauce. This is the only sauce we put on our oysters. We’ve made it very clear that we don’t use cocktail sauce and that our thing is Pebre. Collaborating invites a whole new audience that maybe wouldn’t otherwise know about your restaurant or brand. They will be just as excited about you using their product as you will be to use it and they will spread and share the collaboration through their marketing and social networks. This kind of thinking will allow you to get creative more often than not. The possibilities are actually endless.

Want to join the EBO community?
If you like oysters and surprises, sign up for the East Boston Oysters email list. Events are mostly held in the Boston area, but EBO is planning events in other locations in the United States this year.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Tripleseat’s Seated magazine, Spring 2018 issue.