“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster” – Jonathan Swift.
Founders of the West Robins Oyster Company (WROC), Will Peckham and Walker Lourie, have successfully melded their optimistic approach both professionally and personally to growing one of life’s delectable delicacies – oysters – in an environmentally regenerative manner.
Peckham spent his early childhood on a trawler owned by his parents cruising between coastal Maine and the Bahamas, namely Abacos. After graduating from Middlebury, and undertaking a stint on Wall Street, he was ready to pursue his desire to find “the marriage of profit and purpose.”
Having grown up in Vermont, Lourie studied at Hamilton College, where a summer internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, along with his thesis on “the impact of global warming on Crassostrea Virginica” (the Eastern or American oyster) led him to Fishers Island Oyster Farm.
The oystermen came together and formulated the idea behind WROC in 2015 at Isabella Beach on Fishers Island in 2015. Believing that “oyster aquaculture is one of the most environmentally responsible forms of protein production mankind has ever adapted,” their mission is to grow and harvest oysters, an environmentally regenerative process, with minimal carbon inputs, by “Using no food, no fertilizer, no pesticides and no antibiotics” to grow the oysters which graze on naturally occurring phytoplankton,” the duo maintain that “as a native species of New York, [their] oysters actually improve the water quality of [our] bays before [they] harvest them.”
“Our seed oysters come from shellfish hatcheries in New York and New England. Our seed stock is disease-free and does not out-compete native shellfish or dilute wild genetic lines. We don’t harvest wild oyster seed from open access fisheries on Long Island which ensures that our crop is additive, rather than subtractive.”
Employing “modern off-bottom culture techniques to maximize oyster growth rates and fine-tune shell shape early in the life cycle, after a year of nurturing, the oysters are turned loose to the bottom of the Great Peconic Bay, to gain shell strength and flavor complexity.”
The WROC web site offers an interesting bit of background history on why this particular spot was chosen by Peckham and Lourie: “the Glacial Episode left us with Robins Island, a rocky bottleneck that constricts hundreds of millions of gallons of seawater rushing twice-daily to and from the Great Peconic Bay between the North Fork and the Hamptons. West Robins’ oysters thrive on a tidal plateau of the Great Peconic Bay ranging from nine to 15 feet in depth. Here, the salty, cold oceanic flushes from Gardiner’s Bay intermingle with the nutrient-rich, freshwater influenced headwaters of the Peconic River.”
How does one actually receive their oysters? According to both, “We typically receive orders, harvest, and ship our product to the end user on the same day, eliminating food waste problems that sometimes plague perishable supply chains and enhancing product trace ability for social benefit. Our DTC (direct to consumer) business in the Hamptons eliminates the use of packaging entirely.”
WROC “combines antiquated and modern techniques to craft New York’s finest half shell oyster, designed to be eaten on or near the day of harvest. The oysters measure between two and three quarters and three and one quarter inches with a deep cup and plump meat.”
Further, all of their employees are part-owners of the operation, and they attest, “we have a shared vision of growing our business for the benefit of our consumers and the planet, and it’s important to us that every stakeholder shares in the upside that results from doing good and well.”
Hamptons.com was able to “catch” Lourie for a few responses:
What was the overall impetus to launch such a business during these environmentally and economically capricious times?
WL: Well before we were considering oysters as a line of business, we were both keenly aware of the current and future impacts of climate change. Now more than ever, the world needs sustainable forms of protein, as most forms of industrial terrestrial agriculture protein production have widespread negative environmental impacts. That, coupled with a a growing global population GDP per capita, necessitates the need for alternative superior forms of food protein production. Knowing that many share our interest in sustainable and responsible eating, we jumped at the chance to cultivate oysters in Southampton. It doesn’t hurt that oysters have a long and storied regional history, and that they’re incredibly delicious.
How exactly does a consumer, restaurant or other entity order your oysters? Is there a minimum or maximum amount?
WL: Local (East End) consumers can order directly from us via our website, which will have a new look launching this spring with full shop functionality. This is the best way to get our oysters at their freshest – typically delivered to your door within two hours of harvest and immediately iced to preserve finest product quality. We also love getting out into the community, and have been welcome additions at parties and benefits with our mobile oyster bar. We use a Peconic Sharpie replica that Will built by hand, loaded with ice, accoutrements, and oysters to really bring the experience to the customer in a way that you just don’t find from a grocery store or fish market oyster. We believe in our product, and answering questions about why and how we grow oysters is so important to us.
On the restaurant side of things, we prefer to work directly with a small group of East End chefs. Being part of the local food community allows us to really develop a rapport and maintain good old-fashioned, high touch customer service. We also use a few trusted wholesalers in the City [New York] to distribute our product to restaurants in the five boroughs. They do a great job of highlighting our product quality while letting us focus on more pressing tasks close to home, like growing oysters.
How does your pricing compare with other consumer options for purchasing oysters?
WL: Not all oysters are created equal, similar to handbags or beer. West Robins has a pretty lofty goal of producing a premier quality New York oyster. As with anything that takes time and care to produce, our customers ultimately pay us a fair price that reflects our mission for quality and sustainability.
If your mouth is now watering to slurp down some delicious oysters, then be sure to visit www.westrobins.com and follow them on Instagram (www.instagram.com).