It’s difficult to imagine food in the Pacific Northwest without thinking of oysters. Five varieties are grown in the region — including the tiny, incomparable Olympia, the only native West Coast oyster, finally recovering from the pollution that almost wiped it out in the 20th century — and sometimes it seems every restaurant in Seattle has the briny bivalve on the menu. Although the prime season for oyster harvesting is winter, when the waters in the Puget Sound are cool, nothing says summer in Seattle like a sunny day paired with a cold drink and a dozen freshly shucked Kumamotos.
One of the primary purveyors of Kumamotos locally is Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish Farms, the largest producer of farmed shellfish in the United States, raising oysters, clams, mussels, and geoduck. Founded in the 1890s by James Y. Waldrip, the family-owned company started by farming Olympia oysters in Totten Inlet in the South Sound.
During the Depression a pulp mill was built in Shelton, dealing a blow to many oyster farmers along the West Coast, but with hardier varieties from around the world Waldrip’s son, James, Jr., and James’s wife, Florence Taylor, persevered, with Florence running the business during WWII and their son, Justin Taylor, taking over in the ‘50s.
Now the company is in its fifth generation of Taylors running the show, with James Y. Waldrip’s great-great grandsons, Bill and Paul Taylor, and their brother-in-law, Jeff Pearson, at the helm. In addition to delivering shellfish across the world, Taylor Shellfish has raw bars spread throughout Seattle, including a pocket-sized space in Capitol Hill, a hip Pioneer Square joint just steps away from Centurylink Field, a sleek setup near the Space Needle in Lower Queen Anne, and a big, buzzy spot in Bellevue, all essential stops for anyone seeking a unique taste of western Washington. Additionally, people can pick up shellfish and learn to shuck their own oysters in Bow at the Samish Farm Shellfish Market and at a market in Shelton.
What does it take to keep the wheels greased on an oyster company that’s more than a century old and ships live seafood throughout the world? Here’s a look at Taylor Shellfish by the numbers:
10: Taylor family members working at the company
700: total number of employees working at the farms, four oyster bars, and three farm stores spread across Washington
4: species of oysters grown: Pacific, Kumamoto, Virginica, and Olympia
1/2: inch oyster seed when it’s moved from the nursery to the farms
18: months for a beach-grown Pacific oyster to reach eating size
5: years to grow a Kumamoto or Olympia oyster to eating size
3,000,000: dozen live oysters or 36,000,000 live Taylor Shellfish oysters shucked in 2017
4,800: oysters shucked on a busy weekend night in any one of Taylor’s four oyster bars
20: shuckers working across oyster bars, retail, and catering teams
28: dozen oysters shucked per hour on average
4: different ways the oysters are prepared: raw, fired, baked, and smoked
5: percent of the company’s business that comes from the oyster bars
24: hours or less from harvest to table in Seattle-area restaurants
72: hours or less from harvest to table in China