Rappahannock River Oysters owners Travis and Ryan Croxton used to know absolutely nothing about oyster farming, but they did know a lot about family history.
A Chesapeake oyster company based out of Topping, Va., Rappahannock River Oysters began in 1899 when Travis and Ryan's great-grandfather bought just five acres of leased river bed bottom in the nearby Rappahannock River. He passed that business over to his son -- Travis and Ryan's grandfather -- who would grow that initial investment into 100-plus acres of leased oyster ground, earning himself the nickname of "white-collar oysterman" for his habit of shucking oysters in his suit.
After his passing, however, the business was nearly abandoned. But in 2012, with the leases on their family's oyster ground about to run out, brothers Travis and Ryan decided to revive the century-old family tradition of oyster farming.
But once they purchased the land, they had to answer one simple question: What were they going to do with it?
"We learned about oyster farming just by Googling," Ryan said. "We had the history with our grandfather, but all the techniques were lost, so we came to this fresh."
Initially, they opened Merroir, an oyster "tasting room" in Topping, Va. Today, they have three oyster restaurants open in Virginia and Washington D.C., in addition to shipping oysters around the country, including over 100,000 each week to New York alone. Combined, the enterprise employs roughly 120 people.
"While we started this out of nostalgia, we continue it out of the hope that our kids will be able to step up and take this on and change it all around just like we did," Ryan said.