TOPPING, Va. – When Travis and Ryan Croxton first went to New York City in 2004 to market their homegrown oysters, one of the few seafood places they had heard of was Le Bernardin, so naturally they just showed up with a cooler at the kitchen door.
“We really Forrest Gumped it,” said Travis, 39. “We had no idea what we were doing.”
Chesapeake oysters were so rare then that the chefs wanted to try them on the spot. But neither Croxton, both of whom had master’s degrees, knew how to shuck an oyster. “Finally the chef took it out of my hands and did it himself,” Travis said.
Oysters had almost disappeared from the Chesapeake Bay when the Croxtons, first cousins and co-owners of the Rappahannock Oyster Co., graduated from college. And after decades of bad news about pollution, silt, disease and overfishing in the bay, many locals wouldn’t eat them raw. “A whole generation of Virginians grew up without virginicas,” said Peter Woods, the chef at Merroir, the Croxtons’ oyster bar here, where the Rappahannock River empties into the bay. “For oyster roasts, oyster stuffing, all these traditions, you just couldn’t get your hands on them.”