Revel Walker always knew that being a waterman was in his blood. Stretching back to 1889, Walker Seafood represents six generations, each of whom worked the waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They sell whole in-shell clams and oysters, both farm-raised and wild-caught, to suppliers throughout the country.
Due to careful planning and years of practice, Revel can grow and harvest oysters and clams throughout the entire year, which makes his business invaluable to distributors, who resell to upscale restaurants and grocery stores in New York, Boston, and other metropolitan areas.
The oysters are grown in the temperate waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. With a grow-out time of about a year and a half, timing is everything. “What’s important to my customers is that I have a year-round supply,” Revel says. “Planning digs is important, because we dig 30 to 45 bushels at a time.”
After working in the family business for years, Revel navigated a lot of change when he took the helm in 2013. Then he went full time (became a “co-oper”) and stepped into the lead at Walker Seafood. That posed its own set of challenges.
“Things like paperwork, invoices, and making sure everyone gets paid on time — this was all stuff that was new to me and were things that I’ve had to get the hang of as I’ve gone along,” Revel says. Fortunately, he didn’t have to look far for help. “The Hampton Roads SBDC-Eastern Shore to me is George Bryan,” Revel says. “I took his class when I knew I was going out on my own. George advised me on what loans to apply for. He gave me some good pointers on budgeting and finance,” Revel adds.
With COVID-19 sweeping the country, Walker Seafood had to navigate some decreases in demand as restaurants struggled with pandemic-related closures. “Sales are definitely down in the Northeast,” Revel notes. Fortunately, he has been able to meet consistent sales goals by reaching out to new customers. Revel says the family name is so well known within the industry that it works as its own calling card.
In the end, no amount of name recognition will make up for a product that isn’t up to par. Revel is proud to bring fresh seafood to his distributors that more than lives up to his family’s well-known name. And he couldn’t have done it without the help of the SBDC.
“We aren’t just competing with other local growers,” Revel says. “Walker Seafood has instant name recognition. My dad and uncle were the people to start doing the farm-raised clams and oysters. You have to have the product to back that up. And we do.”