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Oyster retailer's dream comes true

POSTED: December 24, 2008 10:19 a.m.
Hollie Moore Barnidge/

The McIntosh Company owner, Jimmy Smith, poses with his mule, Rocky, near a bed of oyster shells near the entrace to Smith's business.

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Name: Jimmy Smith

 

Occupation: Owner of The McIntosh Company, an oyster retailer named for its location on the western edge of the McIntosh community in Liberty County.

How did you get into the business of selling oysters? "A little over 20 years ago, a friend, Danny Williamson, was in the business of buying oysters from Apalachicola, Fla., and I started working with him. We used to go to Florida and buy ’em, and we’d wholesale ’em along the way and retail ’em here.

"Then, about 15 years ago, they opened additional (oyster) leases in McIntosh County and I was, for a few years, able to buy a supply of their oysters and bring them here."

 

Your oyster selling business had been closed for about seven years before reopening Dec. 3. Why? "Well, for one thing, I want to sell Georgia oysters and I lost my supply. The Department of Agriculture and the Coastal Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources started a local water monitoring program 10 years ago to offer oyster leases. My associate, Danny Eller, owns a lease for the St. Catherines Sound Shellfish Company. Danny’s had the lease for about four years and he cultivated a nice supply of quality Georgia oysters, and we’re ready to sell.

 

Why do you specifically want to sell Georgia oysters? "I’ve sold Texas, Louisiana and a few Alabama oysters and there’s no question about it – Georgia and South Carolina oysters are the best. Florida are second-best.

 

What makes Georgia oysters so good? "I guess it’s the marshes. That’s what I’ve always thought. We have much higher tides and marsh grass. The (oysters) here are hand-picked when the tides go out. In Texas and Louisiana, they’re dredged, and in Florida, they’re taken with tongs."

 

How’s business? "Slow getting the word out. We’ve gotta get a sign out. But we’ve sold some. This time next year, I anticipate being able to sell gallons or pints. Maybe this season, but not likely.

How much do your oysters cost? Smith charges $25 for a half bushel and $45 for a bushel. A bushel usually contains about 60 pounds.

How many people will a bushel feed? "Two bushels will do a nice party of six to eight couples if they’re polite eaters. Some folks I know, two people could eat a bushel, but I won’t call ’em by name."

They say oysters can be dangerous. Why? "Oysters can carry viruses and diseases if they’re not properly handled after coming out of the water. I recommend never eating a raw oyster. I recommend cooking them. I used to eat them raw, but I quit approximately 10 years ago because of water pollution."

How do you keep your oysters safe? "We keep extensive records about monitoring temperature and how long they’ve been out of the water. If the handling’s done right, it minimizes the risk and protects the purchase.

"Records help if there’s an illness. You’ll know where the oysters came from and authorities can react quickly to stop it. If you get oysters from a reliable source and cook them, there’s very little danger. I don’t think there’s a tastier treat that comes out of the ocean."

What’s your favorite part of the job? "Meeting customers and doing the selling. Danny Eller goes into the river for the most part. He’s just starting to teach me what goes on in the water."

What’s your least favorite part of the job? "Probably figuring out the red tape of getting here over about 20 years of time. The hopes and disappointments have been equally mixed. This is a dream that’s been over 25 years in the making, and I’m as happy and proud of it as I’ve ever been."

 

 

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