The Old Ebbitt Grill in D.C. came in second place for oyster shells recycled over the past year, returning 1,214 bushels to the Bay. Facebook photo.

Top 10 Restaurants That Give Oyster Habitat Back to the Bay

If you’ve been following Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts in the past several years, it’s no secret to you that old oyster shells are one of the most important commodities for a healthier Bay.

Far from being trash, used shells left over from oyster roasts, individuals and restaurants are valuable homes for new oysters, raised from larvae in labs and attached to the recycled shells to begin growing to maturity.

The Oyster Recovery Partnership’s (ORP) Shell Recycling Alliance exists to gather the old shells that might otherwise be thrown away and instead save them for baby oysters that will eventually be planted on sanctuary reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Bay-friendly businesses in the Shell Recycling Alliance go above and beyond to set aside their old oysters. The list of members stretches from Colonial Beach, Virginia, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

ORP just released its list of the Top Ten Shell Recycling Alliance contributors for the past year. If you have a hankering for raw oysters on the half shell or any other yummy oyster dish, consider choosing one of these:

  1. Jessie Taylor Seafood (Washington D.C.) – 1,719 bushels of shell
  2. Old Ebbitt Grill (Washington D.C.) – 1,214 bushels
  3. King Street Oyster Bar (Washington D.C.) – 1,080 bushels
  4. Boatyard Bar & Grill (Annapolis, MD) – 846 bushels
  5. Whiskey & Oyster (Alexandria, VA) – 820 bushels
  6. King Street Oyster Bar (Potomac, MD) – 810 bushels
  7. Ryleigh’s Oyster (Lutherville-Timonium, MD) – 720 bushels
  8. The Salt Line (Washington D.C.) – 679 bushels
  9. The Walrus Oyster & Ale House (Columbia, MD) – 676 bushels
  10. The Walrus Oyster & Ale House (Oxon Hill, MD) – 673 bushels

These restaurants not only serve a lot of oysters, they make it a priority to invest time and energy into the sustainable practice of shell recycling.

We at Chesapeake Bay Magazine have spent time slurping oysters at #7 on the list, Ryleigh’s Oyster, which is proud to source oysters straight from Virginia’s Eastern Shore. At the Walrus Oyster & Ale House at National Harbor, we enjoyed seasonal December oysters with a view out the window of the National Harbor waterfront, its Ferris Wheel, and a timed Christmas tree light show. Supporting responsible oyster establishments can be fun, too.

Some of the Washington, D.C. restaurants recycle huge amounts of shell. At the Old Ebbitt Grill, Area Director of Operations David Moran says they serve several thousand oysters each day. “In 2023, we recycled more than 1.2 million shells between our daily sales and our annual November event, the Oyster Riot, where several hundred thousand oysters were served over a two-day period.”

As shell becomes a scarcer resource, the need is greater than ever for ORP. Oyster shell is the most natural material restoration experts can use to rebuild reefs. And oyster reefs function to filter the water, provide habitat to other marine life, and public reefs bolster the Bay’s seafood industry.

Just this month, ORP helped plant eight million juvenile oysters in Herring Bay, one of the Bay tributaries targeted for large-scale restoration. Without recycled shell, those eight million oysters would have no substrate to attach to and grow on. Each shell can become a home for up to 10 young oysters.

ORP’s recycling alliance has made a big difference in the organization’s restoration efforts.

“Last year, ORP’s Shell Recycling Alliance recovered approximately 29,000 bushels of shells, bringing the grand total to over 312,000 bushels recycled since the program’s inception in 2010,” said Tommy Price, ORP’s Shell Recycling Manager. “This volume is enough shell to fill nearly six Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

That also equates to 10,920 tons of shell that was kept out of local landfills.

The Shell Recycling Alliance is the nation’s largest program of its kind, with nearly 200 member businesses in the DMV and 70 public shell drop sites. The Top Ten recycling alliance contributors for each year get a commemorative plaque in honor of their efforts.