"From their first tiny harvest in 1984 to the 3 million oysters they raise annually today, Hog Island Oyster Company has become one of the most celebrated oyster producers in North America." - Martha Stewart
John Finger, Terry Sawyer and Michael Watchorn didn’t intend to become oyster farmers. After graduating with degrees in Marine Biology – from different universities on opposite coastlines - the three met and became friends in Santa Cruz, CA.
In 1978, John moved to California seeking Pacific Ocean waves and post-college adventures. He accepted a short-term job at an oyster company near Monterey and soon found himself running the farm. There he met Michael Watchorn, a student at U.C. Santa Cruz.
Their first experiences in oyster aquaculture were rough, but the lessons learned were invaluable. They realized, if done properly, growing high quality oysters for the half shell market could be a good business and a great lifestyle. When Finger was introduced to Tomales Bay, CA, he saw the perfect location for a future farm.
John and Mike launched the Hog Island Oyster Co. in 1983 with a $500 loan from their parents and a five-acre lease on northern Tomales Bay. They adopted the French ‘rack and bag’ method for cultivating oysters. Although more tedious and costly, it produced exquisitely shaped oysters, perfect for “slurping off the half shell.” The first bushels of Hog Island Oysters were delivered to Zuni Café, Pacific Heights Bar and Grill and Chez Panisse, and the Hog Island ‘Sweetwater’ was born.
Meanwhile, John and Mike’s personal friend, Terry Sawyer – an aquarist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, was making weekend trips to Tomales Bay to help plant salvaged oyster seed on Hog Island’s five-acre lease. He also spent the weekends hauling freshly harvested oysters to market and shucking his way around the Bay Area as part of their crowd pleasing, innovative Hog Island Traveling Oyster Bars. All while maintaining his job with the aquarium in Monterey.
By 1988, Hog Island Oyster Co. had grown just big enough to offer Terry partnership. Though a high-risk career move, he was ready and willing to grow his future in Tomales Bay. And, he has never looked back.
To this day, co-owners/founders John Finger and Terry Sawyer remain involved in every aspect of their business. From harvesting oysters on the lease, to advocating for water quality, to shucking oysters at one of their oyster bars, the partners stayed the course and built their vision of offering an exceptionally fresh, fun and unique oyster experience to the community.