Yought to know about Williamstons Sunny Side Oyster Bar

Lauren Rose—
Sunny Side Oyster Bar | illustration by

Oysters have long-remained a staple of the South. There’s nothing quite like a bowl of oysters, a crisp beer and a warm fire as the seasons change to fall and winter. It’s a time for good food, good friends and good ‘ole North Carolina traditions. And the Sunny Side Oyster Bar is one such place y’ought to know.Back in the 1930s, the C.T. Roberson Family was working the family’s popular gas station and grocery. Duck hunters would stop by on their way to Lake Mattamuskeet to buy supplies, swap hunting stories and share the tales of eating oysters at the lake.Oysters wouldn’t make it further than the docks, people were vying for a taste as soon as the bushels made it off the boat. So, in 1935, Roberson decided it was time to bring oysters, shrimp and the classic saltine crackers inward to Williamston. And the rest as the cliché goes, is history.”Today, you can come inside to eat at the bar and it will be just as it was in the 1940s and 1950s. We have the original bar in the back where the shuckers are,” said Doug Chesson, one of the four owners of the Oyster Bar today.While the all-wood structure remains with some renovations in the 1990s, the menu has evolved to add snow crab legs imported from Canada, scallops, and the Southern side of broccoli and cheese. There’s also the famous Sunny Side Cocktail Sauce where the recipe has long remained a secret. (Hint: There’s horseradish and pepper in the mix.)There’s also a friendly dose of Southern hospitality as Sunnyside knows not everyone can eat shellfish.”We know not everyone can eat seafood. We don’t mind if people stop by one of the local restaurants in town and pick up a plate of food to bring in,” said Chesson. “There is nothing fried on sight in Sunny Side. You can even bring in a tub of slaw or hushpuppies if you’d like.”In 1992, Chesson along with Berney Stevens, Raymond Andrews, and Bill Jones, purchased the Sunnyside Oyster Bar from the Roberson Family to ensure the local hotspot they grew up knowing remained open and thriving. All four owners grew up in the area, have professional jobs by day and this “expensive hobby” as Chesson calls it by night.”The Sunny Side has always been one of the fruits of Williamston. It is a neat place our community has,” said Chesson.The name Sunny Side was derived back in the 1940s from the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s rendition of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.””When we are open and the sun sets in the afternoon, the sun will shine through the front windows and cast the image of our neon sign against the wall,” said Chesson.Reservations are not accepted and the wait to secure a place at the 32-person bar can be anywhere from 15-30 minutes to two hours. But, people know this already. People come in droves to sit at the bar with a cold beer or soft drink, to visit with people they know and make friends with people they don’t know, and to turn an evening of dinner out into a night at the Oyster Bar. Some of the oyster shuckers have been there for 40 plus years and know the regulars by name.”Once we open for the night, we don’t go home until everyone is full,” said Chesson.Sunny Side brings in as many as 100 bushels of oysters a week. For the start of the season, oysters will be brought in from Maryland and Virginia. Once the North Carolina oyster season hits at the end of October, the oysters then become all local.Sunny Side is the second oldest Oyster Bar on the East Coast and is registered with the National Register of Historic Places.Now go on and find the sunny side of life when the bar opens for the season on September 21 and see if you can figure out what makes their Secret Sauce so secret.