Charlestonians next shellfish season will net another raw bar with the opening of a Rappahannock Oyster Company location at The Cigar Factory.
The as-yet-unnamed restaurant will feature a wood-fired grill; plenty of table seating and a small retail area, in addition to the raw bar. “We’re so excited by the seafood down there,” co-owner Travis Croxton says. “We can’t wait to get our hands on it. I mean, you can’t beat that shrimp: Carolina white is the best. It’s going to be cool all around.”
Croxton may also contribute to local seafood production by opening a satellite oyster farm in South Carolina: He’s started talking with state authorities about the possibility.
Rappahannock got its start in 2001 when Croxton and his cousin Ryan took over their family’s century-old oyster operation; the aquaculture company has been at the forefront of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and restoring its reputation as a premier oyster source. In 2011, the Croxtons opened Merroir, a tasting room alongside the Rappahannock River. They’ve since opened a restaurant in downtown Richmond and an oyster bar in Washington D.C.’s Union Market, named one of the nation’s best by the Wall Street Journal.
This week, the company is also adding Rapp Session to its portfolio. The Richmond market will specialize in “ingredients the restaurant leverages on a daily basis,” such as flour and oil, as well as seafood sold at a minimum markup. Croxton says they’ll borrow elements from Rapp Session for the Charleston restaurant, “so people can pick up a ton of oysters for a roast.”
While the Charleston restaurant will offer Rappahannock oysters, Croxton emphasizes that South Carolina oysters will also be available. “We know Charlestonians are very supportive of local,” says Croxton. “We don’t have any intention of any carpetbagger mentality.” Still, Croxton is excited to share the best of Virginia’s bivalve bounty with the city, since many of the state’s oysters that now find their way here represent “the last stand of the generic wild population that’s commercially harvested.”
“Generic James River oysters are not really good representatives of the renaissance going on,” he continues. “We can’t wait to foster their education and open up that dialogue.”
Also on the theme of exchange, Croxton says he’s eager to buy South Carolina seafood to serve at the company’s other restaurants. “It will be a trade imbalance in favor of Charleston,” he says.
Kevin Kelly, who’s currently the chef at the D.C. oyster bar, will relocate to Charleston to oversee the new restaurant. He’ll be assisted by a former Fiola Mare chef who was most recently stationed at The Ordinary.
“It’ll be a full menu,” Croxton says. “You don’t have to be a big seafood eater. The developer is actually allergic to shellfish.”
When they were invited to tour The Cigar Factory venue, which measures about 4500 square feet and parallels the Cedar Room, the Croxtons jumped at another chance to visit Charleston.
“We never turn down Charleston,” he says. “And as soon as we saw all the old brick and the wood, we had to put our poker faces on. It fits our concept really well.”
Claiming the space beneath Garden & Gun was also appealing, Croxton admits. The magazine has long written admiringly of Rappahannock’s work.
“We’re super excited, because everyone wants to go to Charleston,” Croxton says. “But we don’t want to be seen as competition: We’re just augmenting what’s already going on.”
If construction proceeds according to schedule, the restaurant should be open by October.