Interview with Patrick Hudson From True Chesapeake Oyster Co.
This past October, a couple of my colleagues had the unique opportunity to attend the Chesapeake Food Summit at Union Market in Washington, D.C. They all came back raving about their experience and all the great food they had the chance to taste, as well as the great people they got to meet.
There was one company they had a particular interest in, True Chesapeake Oyster Co. They said that the oysters they served were amazing, and that the gentleman they spoke with was very passionate about his work and excited to share his story. When I heard about Patrick Hudson, I decided to give him a call and see if he would be up for an interview.
Patrick is the owner, founder, and farmer of True Chesapeake, a farm in Southern Maryland, as well as a restaurant in Baltimore. Back in 2011, True Chesapeake started as an oyster aquaculture farm in Southern Maryland. In 2013, they sold their first oyster, and since then they have been selling oysters all over the country. They sell between 1 million and 1.5 million oysters in year! They sell primarily to the Baltimore and D.C area, however, they also sell oysters in wholesale to vendors in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and sometimes even on the West Coast. In 2015 they started experimenting with the hospitality industry and opened an oyster bar called the “Local Oyster” in Mount Vernon, and in 2019 the “Local Oyster” opened in The Ballston Corner Market in Arlington, VA. Now, True Chesapeake Oyster Co. has a full service restaurant in Baltimore called “True Chesapeake Oyster Co.” named after the farm, with Chef Zack Mills, formerly of the Mina Group, at the helm. Patrick says that he plans to continue selling oysters to the wholesale market, while also running the restaurants- with two new restaurant concepts set to open in 2020.
When I asked Patrick what made him get into the oyster farming business, he told me that it all started with his dad, who is a bay pilot and was very dialed into the Chesapeake Bay seafood community. “He made me aware of oyster aquaculture a long time ago and I found it really interesting and kind of a better career path rather than going to law school.” After he graduated from school, Patrick decided to check it out and explore oyster farming as an option. Patrick said that he was very early in the oyster farming industry, “I knew when we started that we were one of the first farms to give it a go in Maryland. Maybe one of the first five, but definitely the first to hit as large of a scale as we have.” Patrick is very passionate about connecting the True Chesapeake Oyster Co. farm with it’s restaurants. “We are the first oyster farm in the area with our own restaurant.” Patrick does not make it sound easy by any means. With a full restaurant, two oyster bars, and a farm to manage, he is spread thin. “We just keep the momentum going and keep growing oysters in Southern Maryland and bringing them up to our restaurants for a unique experience and system.”
“Is there a clear connection between your farm and your restaurants?” I asked. Patrick then enlightened me on the concept of “restorative dining” which focuses on two aspects: the first aspect being that the farm is not only sustainable but also restorative, meaning that its presence is actually helping the ecosystem around it. The second is the experience people have while dining at the restaurant provides a “restorative experience in terms of the soul.”
When I asked Patrick to elaborate on the restorative concept, he explained to me that the goal of the restaurant is for people to get a real taste of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay traditions. “We want people to come into our restaurants and remember the crab soup from their childhood and their grandmother’s rockfish.” I asked Patrick how connected the restaurant was with the Chesapeake region and he said, “You are not going to find a tuna tartar or salmon on any of the menus; it’s going to be really traditional Chesapeake foods: crab cakes, oysters, oyster stew, crab soup, and a lot of fish from the region. We also partner with local produce and poultry farms – we’ve got Maryland fried chicken on the menu right now.”
I really enjoyed speaking with Patrick and learning about his passion for not only food, but for the experience he wants his guests to have while eating at his restaurant. I am amazed by how his passions keep expanding. What started with an interest in oyster farming ended with a restorative restaurant experience for lovers of all things Chesapeake.