ARCHER OYSTER COMPANY’S JESS BAUNHOFER
IS ON THE GROUNDS ALONE — FOR NOW
It’s mornings like these, when the sun first rises to awaken the waters of Chincoteague Bay, that Jess Baunhofer feels most emotionally and spiritually connected to his profession.
“Getting here and watching the sunrise, it’s hard not to think it’s a little wink from God every morning,” said Baunhofer, owner of Archer Oyster Company. “We get them like this morning a lot. It was a beautiful sunrise.”
Nestled in the quiet town of Stockton, Baunhofer’s been here just about every day for three-plus years, unless the surfing gods wink more intently, forging his way as a one-man operation in the competitive, and often generational, oyster-farming industry. Working in what he believes to be some of the best oyster-producing waters on the Eastern Shore, Jess said his Maryland Coastal Salts are consistently high in salinity and comparable to the world-famous Chincoteague oysters.
“I would describe our oysters as having an ocean taste out the gate, with a finish that seems to have a sweetness to it,” he said, which have a maturity rate of nine months to two-years.
The Berlin native, who possesses a biology degree from UNC Wilmington, is quick to credit the property’s owner, George Ward, with providing him such an environmentally rich and scenic setting in which to pursue his passion. He’s also invested in his own aquaculture equipment, including an oyster tumbler, which allows him to efficiently sort, shape and grade his oysters.
But Baunhofer’s daily inspiration comes from more than the water, its postcard-quality backdrop and harvest potential. From the very beginning, the dedicated husband and father of three young boys knew his company, and its name, had to represent something more than the location of a farm. Archer Oyster Company is the product of family names: his grandfather, Archie, and middle son Beau’s middle name, Archer.
“A name means something,” he said, “and Archer just stuck in my head, and I couldn’t get it out. I was like, That’ll keep me motivated: family. They continue to every single day.”
Consistently pleasing his customers does too, especially the “picky ones,” providing him with the proof that he’s made the right decision. Local establishments are taking notice. Archer’s oysters are sold fresh to Hooked in Ocean City and Crabs to Go in Berlin, among other locations, as well as to other local oyster farms that have larger accounts. He prides himself on always honoring his same-day-delivery oath, which means restaurants receive his product within six hours of harvesting.
“Everyone is really tickled with our product, and that gives me the most satisfaction,” Baunhofer said. “That and the quality of life I get, just from being out here every day.”
Story by Jonathan Westman
Photos by Grant L. Gursky