A Guy with a Boat and a Dream


It’s easy to see why Trey McMillan, Charleston native and oyster farmer, has succeeded in making Lowcountry Oyster Company a sustainable success. The passion and joy infused into everything he does translates to prosperity not only for his interests, but for everyone on his team, his clients and the people who enjoy his product. “Our mission at Lowcountry Oyster Company is to feed as many people as possible, within the smallest footprint,” says McMillan.

The adventure began when McMillan witnessed a unique oyster farming operation in the Chesapeake Bay region. The spark was ignited and off he went, determined to build an oyster farm in Charleston.

“I had no idea how big the endeavor really was until I started talking to others, and to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource (DNR),” he said. In actuality, no one had attempted to build an oyster farm in the low country, which fueled McMillan’s’s motivation even more. “I believed in it completely,” he continued. So much so that he left his prior career and mortgaged his home to pay for the setup costs. Collaborating with the Department of Natural Resources lent him the expertise to navigate the marine farming rules and regulations, especially the politics of it all.

In 2018, his first yield of 150,000 oysters was the result of planting one million oyster seeds to grow and live for nine months in the 16 acres he harvests within. “At first I thought I could work the farm part-time on my own,” he said. After his initial harvest, though, he realized he needed help due to the intense manual labor and time-consuming farming methods required. He hired his first part-time employee in 2018 and now employs 18 people locally. The time it takes to grow oysters through to harvest is roughly nine months to one year, he explains. Typically, oysters that grow naturally take much longer, anywhere from two to four years, depending on the habitat. In Charleston, the seasons don’t affect the yield or growing season because of its temperate climate.

At Lowcountry Oyster Company, everything is done in house, such as planting the seeds, which number a million that grow into the size of a pinkie fingernail in six to eight months. At that point, they are placed in float cages in the wild water. Within a few months they are at their prime for distribution direct to consumer, farm to table for restaurants in and around Charleston, and to customers nationwide on a custom order/shipping basis numerbing 30,000 oysters a week. In providing to other regions, he works with select third party growers in the Southeastern U.S. to supply from Tennessee, New Orleans, North Carolina and Georgia.

One of the notable sustainability aspects of oyster farming is the lack of any damage to the surrounding natural environment. In addition, it allows for the oyster industry to improve, providing oysters year-round. It wasn’t too long ago that the oyster business was dying due to overfishing. Now, the farms allow for the natural growing process to maintain themselves instead of continuous use.

Being able to work with great suppliers, restaurants and individuals in the Charleston area is gratifying for this Charleston native. “My first customers were Church & Union restaurants and Harris Teeter. We proudly supply many restaurants in our area, including Darling Oyster Bar, Amen Street, Prohibition, and Oyster House. Lowcountry Oyster Company’s success is due to the teamwork of people who really care, and who put in the hard work to make our business a thriving example of oyster farming,” says McMillan. “When I started, I was just a guy with a boat and a dream. Today, we are proud to be able to contribute to Charleston’s reputation as one of the top food destinations in the U.S.”


Susan Nefzger

A seasoned PR pro and food photographer, Susan is an inspirational writer who travels the world planning her trips by dining reservations. She started the GA Lottery in the 90’s and turned to food watching Public TV with Jacques Pepin, Natalie Dupree and The Frugal Gourmet. She is an accomplished home cook and lover of all cuisines.



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