How one man’s love for the ocean led to a sustainable oyster farm. Posted on 05 Aug 08:34
Nick Jambor, founder and owner of Ekone Oyster Company was always attracted to aquaculture (the cultivation of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants.) Nick spent a large part of his childhood in Hawaii, where he learned to scuba dive, and also learned to love the sea. He continued his love of the sea in college, where he studied marine biology. After graduating, Nick considered his ocean-oriented options, and chose to pursue the path of the oysterman.
According to Nick, at that point, he had “a lot of book learning,” but was searching for a hands-on opportunity. (I guess you could say he wanted to get his feet wet.) That’s when a local fisherman approached him to help out with crabbing. Nick said yes, under the condition the fisherman would also teach him about oysters. The older fisherman agreed, and became a mentor to Nick, helping him gain valuable knowledge about this popular shellfish.
How Ekone Oyster Company got its start.
Getting a toehold in the oyster business is not easy. Oyster farms are often passed down through families, and some oyster farms go back five generations. It’s rare for them to come up for sale. So, back in the early 1980s, when Nick got the opportunity to lease 20 acres of tidal land in Willapa Bay, Washington, he jumped at the chance. Since then, the original twenty acres has grown into 360 acres. Nick is proud to point out that he is still actively farming those first 20 acres – a strong indication that Ekone Oyster Company is harvesting oysters in a sustainable way. That includes allowing certain beds to lie fallow to avoid depleting important nutrients, which keeps the oyster stock and their environment healthy and thriving.
As for the Willapa Bay estuary, its oysters are famous, and for good reason. Mainly, it’s not a very populated area and there is no heavy industry. As a result, the environment is pristine, which produces an equally pristine oyster. According to Nick, Willapa Bay has a reputation as being the cleanest bay in the lower 48 states.
Ekone Oyster’s company (aqua) culture.
Nick describes Ekone as a “big small company”. It employs about 45 people, many who live in the nearby towns of Raymond, South Bend and Bay Center, Washington. In particular, the town of Raymond was once known as a “wild and woolly lumber mill town”. But like many small towns in the Northwest, it took a hit when the timber industry declined. Fortunately, the shellfish industry, (which Ekone is part of) continues to support local communities like Raymond.
Ekone produces live, shucked, and smoked oysters. In particular, their high quality triploid oysters – known for their firmness and flavor – have a loyal following. Another popular favorite are the smoked oysters. Nick got his start smoking oysters when he built his wife a smokehouse for her birthday. After sharing them with friends and neighbors, and then selling them at local farmers markets, they caught on quickly, and ultimately lead Nick to invest in a professional smokehouse. Now, smoked oysters are a thriving part of the business. In fact, you'll find these oysters in our Smoked Oyster and Bourbon Chowder.
Nick makes sure that Ekone employees also get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Every week, each employee can take home either a quart, three dozen in a half shell, or six ounces of smoked oysters. Nick was inspired to create this policy after recalling his early days as a waiter at IHOP. He couldn’t help but notice the restaurant employees had, shall we say, a predilection for the seafood on the menu, and helped themselves to “samples” in the kitchen. As a business owner with a tasty product, Nick felt compelled to head off at the pass a potential “sampling” situation. By receiving a complimentary weekly allotment of oysters, Ekone employees can enjoy the delicious oysters they help bring to market, in a way that works for everyone at the company.