When Minterbrook Oyster Farm owner Kent Kingman took over the reins from Beverly Wiksten in 2011, he bought an industrial pillar of the Key Peninsula community with roots that date back to 1931.
What he also inherited was an industry that was being pummeled by the effects of global warming and ocean acidification. This epidemic caused production to decrease by 40 percent and has been killing oyster reproduction since 2005.
“The Wiksten family faced a fundamental market shift in the shellfish industry,” Kingman said. “They took the hit with global warming. They’ve been an anchor business in the community. The Wiksten family gave people so many opportunities.”
Kingman, whose previous experience involved process analyses with some of the world’s largest corporations, has enhanced Minterbrook’s production by seeking a new channel for its oyster supply. To allow their industry to survive, he has worked closely with Taylor Shellfish, which owns a 20,000-square-foot oyster hatchery in Hawaii and in Quilecene, where sea water remains unaffected by ocean acidification.
Now, Minterbrook Oyster services customers around the world at locations such as Guam, Canada and China. With its renewed success, the company is planning to expand by purchasing the old Tide’s Realty building in Purdy and transforming it into an oyster bar called Laguna’s on the Bay, where the product can be enjoyed straight from the local bays.
“It will be difficult to find a fresher oyster anywhere in the country and in a more beautiful setting,” Kingman said. “We are very excited for the community to have a place to enjoy the oysters right out of their local waters.”
Kingman says he and his wife Donna’s passion for shellfish began by watching their sons enjoy dining on clams at Shenanigan’s restaurant in Tacoma. As a family, they decided to plant and harvest clams on their own property in the Key Peninsula and started selling them directly to Minterbrook.
This became a business for their boys, Austin and Garret. Kingman said it was to teach them business, hard work and the world of shellfish.
According to Kingman, Minterbrook Oyster is a family purchase and family business just like the Wiksten family had run the business since 1954. The Kingman’s are the third family to own Minterbrook since 1931. His sons will be key in taking Minterbrook into this 21st century, Kingman said.
One of the biggest threats to production is contamination from vibriosis and paralytic shellfish poisoning during certain weeks of the year. This disease is usually spread from eating raw or undercooked fish or shellfish. Paralytic shellfish poisoning, or “red tide,” is caused by algae which creates a potentially fatal toxin.
Kingman said that his family cannot afford mistakes.
“If you don’t handle the oysters right, the vibrio grows. We have to keep records on how long it’s been exposed to warm air,” he said.
He said the Washington Department of Health maintains very tight controls of processing oysters, and does a great job. Through efforts and requirements, the farmers can trace every oyster back to the source and the beach it was grown on. Minterbrook harvests shellfish only after they have received written approval from Washington State Department of Health Office of Food Safety and Shellfish Programs, Kingman said.
“The challenge with poachers and illegal oyster buyers is that they don’t pay attention to the regulations and requirements that the Department of Health has put in place,” Kingman said.
Customers need to know they are getting a fresh oyster that has been handled with excellent care, he added.
“Restaurants and oyster bars need the best product they can get to give the best experience to their customers. It’s one of the reasons Tide’s Tavern has Minterbrook Oysters on their menu,” Kingman said.
Currently, Minterbrook services several local restaurants including Tides Tavern, The Floatation device, Massimo’s, Il Lucano’s, JW’s, and the Market Place Grill.
For information, visit minterbrookoyster.com.