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Business to Business
November 3, 2015

Five generations of bringing shellfish from tide to table

Oysters, clams, mussels, and geoduck are harvested daily at family-owned Taylor Shellfish Farms — and then shipped to Asia and across the U.S. (including to their own restaurants in Seattle).

Bringing customers the “ultimate shellfish eating experience” is the mission of Taylor Shellfish Farms of Shelton, Washington, says Paul Taylor, head of farms and hatcheries. “We’re bringing the best product available from tide to table.”

That shellfish includes several varieties of oysters, clams, mussels, and geoduck (a large burrowing clam). The company’s model is unique because it owns, manages, and operates the entire supply process — from seed to farming to processing, and now it even runs its own shellfish restaurants in Seattle.

Another differentiator: Five generations of the Taylor family have been involved in all aspects of the company: Brothers Bill and Paul Taylor run the company, and Bill’s daughter Diani, Paul’s daughters Brittany and Marcelle, and Bill’s and Paul’s brother-in-law Jeff Pearson (and two of his daughters) also are involved. Taylor Shellfish was started by Bill’s and Paul’s great-grandfather J.Y. Waldrip in the 1890s in the Puget Sound region.

Bill and Paul Taylor
Bill Taylor
Paul Taylor
Brittany of Taylor Shellfish
Marcelle Taylor
Geoduck
Shucking oysters
Oyster processing

Brothers Bill (left) and Paul run the family business that was started by their great-grandfather.

“We grew up on the beaches of south Puget Sound. We started digging clams when I was 7 years old and Paul was 5 1/2,” says Bill. “We learned from working out here with our father.”

Paul says, “I think growing up in a shellfish family, we didn’t realize how unique it is to be talking about shellfish all the time. That was just part of life.”

Brittany runs the shellfish nurseries – this one is in Shelton, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. She says, “I’m really proud of the product we bring to tables.”

Marcelle says, “People just love the fresh shellfish experience that they get at our oyster bars.”

Wells Fargo’s Nick Wright (left) and Jeff discuss the geoduck business. Geoduck is a native American Indian term that means “dig deep.” Geoduck is prized in Asian markets and is gaining popularity in the U.S.

Chef Tom Stocks prepares oysters at the restaurant near Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. He says the inspiration for many dishes comes from walking on the beach.

Taylor Shellfish employs about 550 people in the U.S. Almost 50 of their employees have tenures of 20 years or more.

Taylor Shellfish runs and manages the farming operation from beginning to end. For example, clams, mussels, and oysters are started at Taylor Shellfish hatcheries in Hawaii and Washington, and then moved to nurseries in California and Washington once they reach a certain size. Then, after they’ve grown a bit more, they’re moved to beaches, or tideland farms, along the coasts of Washington and British Columbia, Canada, where they grow for an additional one to six years — depending on the crop.

Eventually they’re big enough to sell. “It’s a very long process getting the oysters from our hatcheries through the nursery systems and then finally onto our farms,” says Brittany, who manages seed production with her father.

Wells Fargo is Taylor Shellfish Farms’ primary bank and recently provided a $14 million line of credit so the company can add a new processing facility. Jeff says he appreciates Wells Fargo’s agriculture and fishery team because “they understand that our crops take several years to grow. Our geoduck takes six years to grow, and our oysters and clams take three years to grow, so there’s a lot of patience needed before those products come to market. Also, Wells Fargo understands crop rotation and inventory.”

Getting to your plate

Bill, head of public affairs, explains that shellfish are harvested every day that the tides are low enough.

Oysters are shucked and packaged at the Taylor processing plant in Shelton, or sent live to oyster bars. “Typically within 12 to 24 hours the shellfish will either be on an airplane going someplace in the U.S. or internationally or they’ll be or on a truck going down the West coast.”

One of those destinations is also three of their own shellfish bars in Seattle: Taylor Shellfish Farms Oyster Bars, which started first as a shellfish market in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood four years ago.

Then, “People started begging us to shuck the oysters in the market for them, and it quickly turned into an oyster bar, and we added wine and beer,” says Marcelle, who manages the restaurants. “It was so successful that we decided to expand and open two more oyster bars. This is our opportunity to share what we work so hard to do with our local community.”

Taylor Shellfish sorting oysters
When the oysters reach the proper size, they’re moved to tidelands along the coast.
Oysters are brought to the processing plant.
Oyster clusters
Single oysters are shipped live across the U.S. to meet the booming demand.
Taylor Shellfish Farms

Oysters are started in a hatchery and then moved to a nursery called a floating upweller system (FLUPSY). The oysters are sized and sorted at the FLUPSY.

When the oysters reach the proper size, they’re moved to tidelands along the coast.

Once ready, oysters are brought to the processing plant.

Oyster clusters are shucked at the Taylor Shellfish processing plant in Shelton, Washington, and the oyster meats are packaged and sold wholesale.

Oysters are shipped live across the U.S. to meet the booming demand from restaurants and bars.

Taylor Shellfish Farms also operates three restaurants in Seattle that sell their oysters, clams, mussels, and geoduck direct to hungry diners.

The majority of their business, however, still is wholesale. “We export about a third of our product to Asia — Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia — and then the rest is sent throughout the U.S.,” says Jeff, chief financial officer.

Financing growth

Bill attributes the company’s success to the spirit of opportunity his father and uncle embraced.

“One of those opportunities has been constructing a FLUPSY, which maximizes shellfish seed growth and protects the seed from the many predators that they are very vulnerable to,” says Bill. (FLUPSY stands for floating upweller systems.)

The technology the FLUPSY uses is still fairly new, so the Wells Fargo Commercial Banking and Agriculture Lending teams teamed up to underwrite the loan — and Wells Fargo financed the first FLUPSY nursery for Taylor Shellfish in Humboldt, California, in the spring of 2014.

Growing the business is a focus of the Taylor family. “Like any family business it’s had its ups and downs over the 125 years or so, and it’s grown a lot in the last 35 to 40 years. But we see strong demand for our product and are looking forward to the future,” says Bill.

Jeff adds, “We’re planning on tripling the size of our business over the next eight years, and having a partner like Wells Fargo to help us both on the farm and building a new processing plant will help us get there.”

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