The pandemic isn’t over — at least when it comes to restaurants. The owners of the Local Oyster announced Monday they are shutting down the eateries’ branches in Mount Vernon Marketplace and Locust Point, a wrenching decision they chalked up to the lasting effects of COVID.
“Things haven’t been good [in the restaurant industry] since 2019,” said Zack Mills, partner at Chef Shucker Farmer Inc., the parent company of the Local Oyster. Mills, who is the “chef” in the company’s name, attributed the closures to the pandemic’s impact and an ongoing downturn in sales.
“Restaurants are not back. It’s as simple as that,” he said. Amid a decline in revenue, the owners “had to make a call before things got worse.”
The Local Oyster stall in Mount Vernon debuted in 2015, and the Locust Point restaurant opened near South Baltimore’s Anthem House just last year. Recent guests to the newer location included Gov. Wes Moore, who feasted on blue catfish, an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay.
The fast-casual restaurant introduced many Baltimore diners to locally-farmed bivalves and helped spread the gospel of sustainable seafood in the region. Before coming aboard, Mills said he saw the company “as such a lovely positive light within the restaurant industry. I was proud to help out and be a small part of it.”
The last day in operation for both the Locust Point and Mount Vernon eateries will be Nov. 11, according to an Instagram post from co-owner Nick Shauman. Shauman is the “shucker” in the parent company’s name and a recognizable presence on Baltimore’s food scene.
Mills is also chef and co-owner of True Chesapeake Oyster Co., a higher-end Hampden-area restaurant that opened in 2019. That eatery will stay open, as will the Southern Maryland oyster farm for which it’s named. The farm has been aided by an increase in retail sales; its bivalves are sold at Graul’s Market and MOM’s Organic Market.
The Local Oyster’s offshoots previously included a stall in Virginia’s Ballston area. It closed around 2022, a decision Mills said was due to the “pandemic through and through. We simply opened at the wrong time.”
Moving forward, its owners will refocus on events and catering, though it’s not yet clear where those operations will be based. “Catering and events is how the Local Oyster started in the first place, and has always been a strong part of the business,” Mills said.
Co-owner Patrick Hudson — a.k.a. the “farmer” — could not immediately be reached for comment, but he has spoken with The Banner in the past about some of the challenges his restaurants faced, particularly in recent years. “It’s just a very different [hospitality] industry than it was before the pandemic and much more challenging,” he said earlier this year.
While Hudson applied for financial relief through the federal government’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund, none of his eateries received money through the grants. He was outspoken about the potential impact in an interview last year with ABC News, noting his companies had taken on hundreds of thousands in dollars in debt.
“I don’t know how sustainable that is,” Hudson said. “I don’t know if that’s going to last.”