www.LowcountryCuisineMag.com | www.MountPleasantRestaurant.com | www.CharlestonRecipes.com lowcountry cuisine LC 7 W alk inside Rappahannock Oyster Bar in the Cigar Factory downtown and you will find much more than an oyster bar. Yes, there is a beautiful copper bar — one of Charleston’s largest — and every style of oyster you can imagine, but it’s also a restaurant featuring in-season, fresh-from-the-boat fish and shellfish along with non- seafood options and a great brunch. Not to mention it’s an active fish market; inventory is sold to the public so that chef Kevin Kelly and his team can keep their stock as fresh as possible. With a back story like Rappahannock’s, it’s no wonder that they are so dedicated to serving only the best local, sustainably harvested seafood. The story of Rappahannock Oyster Bar started back in 1899 when the great-grandfather of cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton secured a lease for 2 acres of river bottom in Virginia’s Rappahannock River. He started an oystering business during what they described as an oyster “gold rush.” His company was successful for a time, picking up customers like Campbell’s Soup and growing the lease to over 200 acres of oyster beds, but, unfortunately, the harvesting techniques of the era and the exploitation of the Bay oyster yielded a bleak future for those in the industry. The family business lasted for two generations, but the third generation (Ryan and Travis’ fathers) was discouraged from going into it. Around the time Ryan and Travis were young children, their grandfather was winding down the business. By 2001, the Bay oyster was close to becoming an endangered species and was estimated to be at just 1% of what it had been in its heyday. When the 200-plus acre lease was up for expiration that year, the fourth generation — with no equipment or experience except for some foggy childhood memories of their grandfather’s profession — decided to renew and pursue a new hobby of sorts. They had no expectations for success and never anticipated that the renewal would be the first step to saving an industry and rocketing them into the national culinary spotlight. “It started off as a hobby, almost like a backyard garden. And because we didn’t have the know-how, we did a lot of Googling,” smiled Ryan. “There’s a lot to be said about having a break from an old tradition because BY ANNE SHULER TOOLE More Than an Oyster Bar Rappahannock Chef Kevin Kelly. Photos courtesy of Rappahannock Oyster Bar.