Led by cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton, Rappahannock Oyster Company set out in 2001 to resurrect the native Bay oyster just after the Chesapeake had recorded its lowest oyster harvest in history. Their family’s century-old oyster leases were about to expire with the state, and they had to make a game-time decision. Ryan and Travis chose to renew the family leases and planted over 3,000 oyster seed the following Spring in 2002.
Sixteen years later, both the company and the Bay oysters are thriving. Because of operations and enthusiasm like the Croxtons’ around Virginia, the state has become the leading oyster producer on the entire East Coast.
What began as Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s ‘tasting room’ in Topping, Virginia in 2011, called Merroir, is now a renowned oyster bar that boasts tons of reviews and fabulous ratings on Facebook. The name ‘Merroir’ comes from a twist of the wine term ‘terroir’ to reference the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to an oyster by their environment.
Oysters can taste radically different depending on a host of factors, most typically related to the salinity of the water where they were harvested. For instance, the mineral-rich freshwater from the Blue Ridge Mountains has a strong effect on the Rappahannock River Oysters, accounting for their trademark ‘sweetness.’ Similarly, the Stingray Oysters grown in Mobjack Bay have a distinctly saltier taste than the Rappahannock Oyster due to the influx of saltwater streaming in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Merroir’s oyster menu consists of three different varieties:
- Rappahannock River Oysters (sweet)
- Stingray Oysters (mild)
- Olde Salt Oysters (briny)
Aside from Oysters, customers can also enjoy craft brews on tap, dozens of world-famous wines and bottled beers, and an always-changing menu of small-plate delicacies, all while basking in a beautiful waterfront view of the Rappahannock River. The Croxtons also have a second oyster bar in Washington, D.C. called Rappahannock Oyster Bar.
The real piece de resistance, however, lies in Richmond, Virginia: The Rappahannock Oyster Company Restaurant on E. Grace Street. The restaurant has partnered with like-minded farmers and fisherman to bring an experience that is both refreshing and unique to customers. It has received national recognition for its cuisine, earning a place among Esquire magazine’s “Best New Restaurants” in 2014.