Bywater Oyster Bar & Grill of Helena closing

By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

HELENA – Members of the Helena community said goodbye to local restaurant Bywater Oyster Bar & Grill as it was announced on its Facebook page the restaurant would be officially closing its doors.

“After much hard deliberation, we have decided to close for the unforeseeable future,” the announcement read. “We truly appreciate the love and support that we have gotten from Helena, but under current circumstances we just can’t provide the experience to our guest like they deserve.  Please continue to follow us and we will keep you updated as situations change.  Love you all!”

Bywater had garnered a large fanbase since its opening three years ago. The restaurant was known for serving quality oysters with a variety of seafood dishes while providing guests with a lively atmosphere.

“We realized that coming from a similar demographic as Trussville that staffing would be hard,” said owner Matthew Norman. “When we opened it, it was while the state was at 2.7 percent unemployment. Current numbers put us at 3.1 percent with a participation rate of less than 50 percent. That’s a little over 1 percent of people looking for a job spanning every industry in the state. And that became very apparent.”

“My 76 year old mother was having to help prep, my 86-year-old retired father was shucking oysters on the weekend and my 18-year-old son was helping me cook on the line,” he continued. “Certainly not for a matter of will and desire. But certainly not anything that could be maintained much longer.”

Norman said while they would love to open their doors again someday, either with Bywater or a different restaurant premise, they are waiting for the current employment rates to change.

During the pandemic, Norman said he kept his staff’s morale high “with a great deal of effort, and knowing that it’s not exclusively us. Mostly though, through our guests and their patience and understanding.”

Facebook followers left several heart-felt comments on the post. “So very sorry to hear this,” one in particular read. “You are such an amazing asset to this community with your amazing seafood. I hope you will be able to reopen again in the very near future.”

Norman said it’s that exact type of support of the community that has been one of the more encouraging points through such difficult times and he and his staff are very grateful for the encouragement. “It means that we were right to choose Helena and not at all surprised,” he said.

“This town has been extremely supportive! And we’ve made a lot of really good friends in our short time. We really don’t want to disappoint them and we’re keeping a close tab on the pulse of the market. If there’s a break in the clouds, we’ll take it.”

Until they are able to open their doors again, Norman said the gratitude they have for Helena as a whole is immense.

“Helena has such a beautiful sense of community. Everyone knows each other. Everyone supports each other. Neighbors help neighbors. The city loves to help its small businesses. It’s been a true breath of fresh air for me. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people to bring my services too. And I’ve been fortunate and gained a lot of friends in the process.”