Meet Broad Street Oyster Co.’s Owner Christopher Tompkins
“Follow your dreams and ask questions later.”
Christopher Tompkins stopped by the Institute of Culinary Education's Los Angeles campus for a discussion with Director of Restaurant & Hospitality Management Mishel LeDoux about his experience in the hospitality industry as part of the Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs series.
Tompkins' journey is rather unconventional, but he believes it doesn’t take much besides dedication and a love of food to find success.
Originally from New York, Tompkins traveled internationally in his mid-20s, taking odd jobs, living out of a backpack and completely faced with uncertainty. He was uncertain about where he would sleep each night. Uncertain about his career. Uncertain about his future.
Since high school, Tompkins dreamed of having a seafood food truck but always thought he needed more money or knowledge on the subject before starting his own business.
"Fast-forward to when I was 27,” Tompkins says. "I still didn’t have money, I still didn’t know what I was doing, and I was still scared. So then I thought to myself, ‘Whelp. Now’s the time.’”
When Tompkins returned to the United States, he couldn’t stop moving. He packed up his few belongings and drove across the country from New York City to Los Angeles, traded his pick-up truck for a van, called up some of his east-coast fishing connections and started serving up New England-inspired lobster rolls at small events across the city.
“The idea had been formulating, and I finally just took the plunge,” Tompkins says.
He would set up his pop-up stand in front of bars or cater private parties to start. Over the span of a year, Broad Street Oyster Co. amassed a healthy following that kept Tompkins busy seven days a week. It was around this time that Tompkins first expanded his seafood empire by hiring a friend that he could drop off to cater a second event each night.
In 2018, Tompkins soon landed his first big break. Broad Street Oyster Co. was invited to Smorgasburg, Downtown Los Angeles’s largest weekly open-air food market.
“I thought that I won the lottery. This is it. This is the break that I needed,” Tomkins says.
But the pressure was on, and Tompkins knew that he had to provide “an extra special experience.”
This “experience” would be a Smorgasburg exclusive “50-dollar lobster roll,” featuring lobster meat, uni and caviar on a squid ink bun. Tompkins plated one of these rolls the day of his first Smorgasburg, posted it on social media and waited to see if people would come looking for it. And they did, one after another. Because of its popularity at Smorgasburg, lobster rolls with caviar and uni and can still be found on the menu at all Broad Street Oyster Co. locations.
A year later, Tompkins was approached “by a gentleman in a suit” at one of his catering events. He offered Tompkins a summer residency for Broad Street Oyster Co. in Malibu Village, a shopping center located off of the scenic Pacific Coast Highway.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t an easy sell for Tompkins at the time, who feared that he might be rushing things for his business. Rushing was an understatement — because of a stipulation, he would have to open the restaurant within two weeks of signing the month-to-month licensing agreement.
After some convincing by a mutual friend who knew the offerer for putting Grand Central Market vendor “Eggslut” on the map, Tompkins agreed to the terms and opened the Broad Street Oyster Co.’s first brick-and-mortar location at 23359 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. This summer residency proved to be a huge hit, and Tompkins would later negotiate more favorable terms for a more permanent lease.
What started off as a humble New England-inspired, LA-based pop-up then took off in a way Tompkins never expected.
Opening day arrived, and so did a crowd of hungry fans, food writers and local beach-goers. The location is still so well-loved that it has since spawned Broad Street Coffee Co., a sister cafe serving coffee and gelato right next door.
Even through the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Broad Street Oyster Co. thrived by converting its parking lot into a drive-through. This adaptability is a prime example of Tompkins riding the wave through the ups and downs of restaurant ownership.
As COVID restrictions eased, things would never really go back to “normal” for Tompkins. He would soon open Broad Street Oyster Company’s second location in Downtown LA’s historic Grand Central Market, followed by a third location in coastal Santa Barbara in 2022. Broad Street Oyster Co. was also invited to cater under the VIP tent at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2022 and again in 2023.
Broad Street Oyster Co.’s expansion continues. Later this year, hungry seafood lovers will be able to get a lobster roll or oysters on the half shell from their upcoming locations on the Huntington Beach Pier, and in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square.
Perhaps the most sage advice that Tompkins offered ICE students was about seeing things through, even at the beginning of their careers.
“You do not know what you don’t know," he says. "Sometimes you just have to do something until they tell you that you can’t do it.”
ICE is honored to have hosted Christopher Tompkins and cannot wait to see what’s in store for this seafood sensation. Watch the full replay of his discussion below.