By Dan Gray, REDC Executive Vice President
Swell Oyster Company was founded in 2017 by Conor Walsh and Russ Hilliard - two friends who met while earning Aquaculture degrees at the University of Rhode Island. While working as servers at a well-known Seacoast NH oyster restaurant, the two decided farming oysters was the perfect complement to their interests, friendship, and passion for locally grown food.
Swell Oyster Company’s business model is best summed up by the company’s self-described ethos:
“We are passionate farmers. We are playful surfers. We are uptight environmentalists. We are risky entrepreneurs, with a goal to make decisions that fuel our desires to build a positive relationship with the place we love and give back to its beauty. This business is a lifestyle, not a job.”
The company secured leases from the State of New Hampshire to establish an oyster and clam farm in the waters of Hampton Harbor. This was the first lease given for such activity in Hampton Harbor and remains the only aquafarm in that estuary.
REDC Business Advisors provided early technical assistance for Swell Oyster Company, which eventually led to critical REDC start-up financing for oyster and clam seed, boats, farming equipment, and working capital. Swell Oyster Company continues to be an REDC client, and REDC is delighted to count the business as a valuable community development partner.
Swell now sells direct to local restaurants and through a regional distribution network. When the economic disruptions of COVID hit New Hampshire, Swell was impacted negatively, as restaurants dramatically reduced operations. However, the farm still needed to be tended, and work associated with promoting shellfish growth continued. Conor and Russ used the COVID-related downtime to expand into the consumer market. They have rented and renovated a retail “shack” at Hampton Harbor and are now selling directly to the consumer from this storefront. This move has greatly enhanced sales, and Swell Oysters can now be found in restaurants, family dinners, weddings, and corporate events.
“Working with REDC was critical to our early formation and REDC has supported our company every step along this journey. Knowing that there is an organization on the Seacoast that will listen to our unique needs – and do all that it can to help us address them – has been instrumental to our growth.”
- Conor Walsh