Visitors to Bluffton know it doesn’t take much time at all to become rapt in the charm of Old Town. On the surface it’s the quaint restored buildings and the shady avenues draped in Spanish moss strewn live oaks.
Dig a little deeper by visiting the historic Heyward House, or stop in for a drink at Bluffton BBQ, The Old Town Dispensary, or Tavern 46 (or a myriad of local watering holes) and you’ll quickly learn that the quirky appeal of this Lowcountry ‘burg just begins with the Antebellum- infused environment. That ‘Bluffton state of mind’ people talk about here is, more than anything else, all about the people who have, and still do, call Bluffton home.
There’s no better place in my mind to see the convergence of Bluffton history, charm, people and work than the Bluffton Oyster Company. Here you will find fresh off the boat (if they aren’t out fishing, the boats are tied to the dock beside the building!) locally caught fish, shrimp, blue crab, clams and if the time is right, oysters. Owners Larry and Tina Toomer, are about as local as you get with a legacy of fishing the local waters that goes back well over 100 years. Larry is a third-generation oysterman, spending his first 25 years immersed in all stages of oyster production: picking the riverbanks, working the shucking houses, wholesaling, retailing, catering and protecting the resource.
The building itself dates back to 1954 although through the years the site has been home to several oyster houses and is now owned by Beaufort County, purchased with monies from the Beaufort County Land Trust and leased to the Toomer’s. The Bluffton Oyster Company has occupied a site longer than any other oyster-shucking house in the state of South Carolina and is now the last standing shucking house in the state. It is actually built upon the oyster shells from previous shucking operations deposited over the last two hundred years!
The Toomer family is proud to be the steward of this historical site as well as proudly protective neighbors to the May River and surrounding waters. The Oyster Factory is an FDA and DHEC inspected facility and the Toomers’ work closely with regulatory agencies on water quality. Each year they return thousands of oyster shells to the May River for seeding for future harvesting.
Right now, though, it is summer by the sea (and the May River) and that means local brown shrimp and blue crab. Tina Toomer said, “Local, wild shrimp are the most delicious. Imported, farmed shrimp do not hold a candle to our catch”. She added, “It is so important to buy local seafood – for your health, for the taste and to support the local economy.” As a true believer, myself, there is no arguing with that, Tina!
Bluffton Oyster Company also caters so for your next soirée consider their fabulous Lowcountry boil or an onsite or “your site” oyster roast – they are happy to build a custom menu, just ask. And if you just can’t wait to cook on your own, their restaurant, Bluffton Oyster Co.’s Family Seafood House specializes in what else but fresh, local seafood. In addition to their commitment to quality and responsible fishing practices, the Toomer family has been a Bluffton staple in supporting many worthy local charitable causes through the years – it is my pleasure to patron their businesses.
Bluffton Oyster Company
63 Wharf Street, Bluffton, SC 29910