The oyster business is not for the faint of heart. The coveted bivalves are highly vulnerable to outside forces—forces that are beyond the control of many oyster growers—but the payoff can be oh so worth it. Just ask cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton.
The Croxtons' great-grandfather, James Croxton, sold the family's first Chesapeake Bay oysters in Virginia in 1899 to supplement his farming income. James' son—their grandfather—eventually took over the Rappahannock River Oysters business, but he ultimately cautioned his own kids against it as pollution, disease and over-fishing took hold.
"My grandfather rode the decline," Ryan Croxton told TODAY. "He rode the high point and then he rode it down. It pretty much collapsed in 1980 and he died in 1991."
For 20 years, the Croxton family held on to the oyster beds, but did little with them—until 2001, when Travis and Ryan decided to take over. They said they both felt nostalgic about their grandfather and drawn to their family's heritage.
"We had no intention or realization that we would come to where we are right now," Travis Croxton said.
Travis and Ryan created their own crash-course in oystering and aquaculture—raising and farming oysters, rather than just gathering what they found in the bay. This represented a fundamental change in the family's business.
Grown 'Off Bottom'
"Today our oysters are grown 'off bottom,' positioned squarely in the water column where food quality and quantity are greatly improved," the Rappahannock River Oysters website explains. "Not only do the oysters grow faster, they grow richer, plumper and rounder."
(Read More: Spin to Expansion: Pricey Cycling Classes Spread)