Owner & Founder, Island Creek Oysters
Skip Bennett is an artisan. He looks at oyster farming as both aquaculture and art. On the farm, folks equate him to a winemaker, planting and caring for his oysters as a viticulturist would with grapes. Fans of Island Creek Oysters know that on any given late summer day, Skip Bennett can be found gingerly shoveling oyster seed off the side of a boat into Duxbury Bay, committing to memory exactly when and where his “babies” were placed. It is an art form that puzzles so many and adds to the heart, mystique and downright deliciousness of his product. For over 15 years, Island Creek Oysters consistently emerge from the water to overwhelming acclaim from chefs, media and epicureans nationwide.
Skip has spent his entire life in Duxbury (he grew up catching fish and bullfrogs in Island Creek, a small inlet in Duxbury). A passionate clam and mussel harvester, Skip graduated from Merrimack College with a finance degree but quickly realized that he would never feel at home behind a desk. Instead, he went back to the water and tried growing quahog clams in Duxbury Bay. When that didn’t take, he decided to give oysters a try.
Despite some very loud and serious reservations from friends and fellow fishermen, Skip started his search for seed and an education in oyster farming. About the same time, he met Christian Horne, an oyster farmer whose family owned Chance Along Farm in Freeport, Maine. Christian needed a place to grow oysters; Skip needed seed. It quickly became a happy partnership and after many trials and tribulations, they started growing some damn fine oysters. Soon after, like-minded friends and Skip’s father, Bill Bennett, joined the party.
Skip now oversees the largest producing farm and crew at Island Creek and is the owner of Island Creek, Inc. Despite his many attempts to stay out of an office, he does a great job shifting back and forth between the world of the boots and the land of the suits (don’t worry: he’s still on the water every day). He has two daughters who share his passion for the water, and spend most summer days on the bay with their dad.
Executive Vice President, Island Creek Oysters
Without Shore (yes, that’s really his name), Island Creek Oysters wouldn’t be what it is today. Having grown up just a few short miles from Duxbury Bay, “Bug” started working with Skip and Island Creek at an early age but his role as the head of the wholesale company was an idea that was hatched somewhere in South America when he and Skip were traveling together a few years back.
Shore is lovingly referred to as chief suit and excels at managing the day-to-day operations of the company – a task that only he can make look as easy as opening an oyster. Shore runs the wholesale company, creates development strategy for Island Creek and stays in constant contact with some of the best Chefs and distributers across the globe. He has developed the Island Creek Oysters brand so much that they are known as one of the best oysters in the world, being served at French Laundry, Per Se, Next (to name a few) and he continues to push the frontier of the food movement by building a robust online direct-to-consumer business at islandcreekoysters.com.
In 2009, Shore was instrumental in launching the Island Creek Oysters Foundation, which provides funding, expertise, and labor to help build sustainable aquaculture systems in impoverished communities worldwide. Over the last five years, the non-profit has donated funds to applauded aquaculture projects in Africa and Haiti.
And in 2010, Shore became a Partner of Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar alongside Island Creek founder Skip Bennett, acclaimed Chef Jeremy Sewall and restaurateur Garrett Harker. ICOB has rocketed to the top of Boston’s restaurant scene after just one short year and now enjoys the perch of being Boston’s premier seafood restaurant.
Shore’s passion for the water makes office life tough, but getting out on the farm is a great way to avoid paper work (though being away from his fax machine does stress him out). Shore is an avid golfer, a budding foodie and gardener and a master at playing the bass in the video game, Rock Band.
Q: So we’re all envious of the ICO culture… you guys did such a great job translating that to the masses with Island Creek Oyster Bar – were you expecting to be such an immediate part of Boston’s culture?
A: No, definitely not. From day one, we’ve always set out to bring the best products to market and really enjoy the work that we do. With ICOB, that mantra has continued and we are humbled by the support shown by the city of Boston.
Q: Do you have a favorite menu item at ICOB?
A: We are obviously partial to the oysters, but if we had to stray, the oyster slider and the biscuit seem to be go-tos. Also, we’re always floored by how well Chef Jeremy and his team prepare the fish each day. Funny story about the biscuit, a friend of ours proposed to his girlfriend at ICOB and their meal that night consisted of 3 biscuits, so they have to be good.
Q: What speaks to you guys about Lovin’s mission? Can you talk a little about your involvement with us?
A: From the minute we heard about Lovin’, we knew that Ashley and her team were addressing a really important need in the way food was distributed and handled in Boston. We have such a propensity in our culture to waste food and Ashley is addressing that head on. Because of this, we felt compelled to get involved right way. If our oysters and involvement can help Lovin’ in any way it’s really the least we can do.
Q: You have worked with communities like Haiti and Tanzania, helping to set up sustainable aquaculture practices. What similarities and/or differences do you see in your work overseas and the problems with food access and distribution here in the US/Massachusetts?
A: Surprisingly, food access remains a major issue throughout the world and often people think about food access as a third world issue when in reality it is as much an issue in Boston as it is in other parts of the world. Through the work of our foundation, we have realized that food access is as much of an issue as food production so Lovin’ is taking the issue head on, which we think is really awesome.
Q: On the ICOB website, Skip is listed as a “farmer” and Shore is listed as a “suit” – so are you two the odd couple?
A: I guess you could say that. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about Skip is that he has a really sharp business mind that helps guide the off the water activities as much as he directs the on the water activities. Shore has been known to get his hands dirty, but feels anxious anytime he’s away from his fax machine. Odd couple perhaps but there’s more common ground than people might know.