Happiest Of Clams At Virginia’s H.M. Terry Co., Inc.

Staff Writer
Just off of Highway 13, the main drag of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, lies a shellfish powerhouse

H.M. Terry Co., Inc.’s prosperity was built from three key factors: family, hard work, and water quality.

In spite of its small town address of Willis Wharf (population: 168), H.M. Terry Co., Inc. is one of the biggest clam and oyster outfits on the Eastern Seaboard. Curious about how this company came to be, I paid them a visit in November, Virginia’s official oyster month. Through conversations with Pete and Heather Terry and a boat tour amongst the bivalve beds, I discovered H.M. Terry Co., Inc.’s prosperity was built from three key factors: family, hard work, and water quality. This blood, sweat, and tears combo is the foundation for their premium Sewansecott™ shellfish.  

Blood (Family)

Since 1903, the Terry family has been in the shellfish biz. Their branded Sewansecott™ oyster, from spawning to shipping, was their bread and butter until disease almost decimated the Eastern Shore oysters in the 1980s. Forced to find another bivalve, H.M. Terry Co., Inc. experimented with hard-shell clam farming methods, creating a successful nursery that now is the biggest clam supplier along the East Coast. 

The company continues to keep it in the family with C.E.O. Pete  Terry (grandson of the H.M. behind the company logo) running the show. His daughter, Heather, is a savvy marketer and brand ambassador while her cousin, Rich, is out in the field, er, water, tending to the clam and oyster beds. The family dynamic extends to all the employees, creating a close-knit company whose passion shines through in their premium product.

 Sweat (hard work)

Part of H.M. Terry Co., Inc.’s success stems from their comprehensive, “from hatchery to table” company model. They have their hands in spawning the shellfish, growing them in the nursery, transferring them to beds in the bay, then harvesting, sorting, and packing them for shipping. By cutting out the middlemen, this closed-loop production cycle guarantees the exceptional quality for which H.M. Terry Co., Inc. is known. They work around the clock to produce their impressive haul: 60-80 million Little Neck, Middle Neck, and Pasta Neck clams and 10 million oysters annually.

Tears (water)

H.M. Terry Co., Inc. is located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the claw of land below Delaware. Bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, with creeks, rivers, and coves seeping inland, this rural region is nicknamed the “Land Between Two Waters.” All this water provides prime real estate for shellfish farming, particularly Hog Island Bay, where the Sewansecott™ clam and oyster beds lie.

Adjacent to the Barrier Islands, an uninhabited chain loved by local beach-goers in the know, these crystalline waters have been certified by the U.N. as an International Reserve Biosphere. Consequently, the bay is protected from current and future contamination. For the Sewansecott™ shellfish, this translates into their terrific sweet n’ salty taste, since bivalves filter the water in which they grow. 

Those visiting the Eastern Shore can purchase Sewansecott™ clams and oysters directly at their facility in Willis Wharf. Or, the Island House Restaurant in Wachapreague always has their oysters on the menu. No plans to be in Virginia? H.M. Terry Co., Inc. has deals with Whole Foods across the country as well as distributors in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Charleston, and Chicago.

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