Rapphannock Oyster Co. steers through a fire, the debut of an airport oyster bar and the return of Rapp Session
October 12, 2023
12:50 PM
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Travelers with downtime between flights at Washington Dulles International Airport will soon be able enjoy Rappahannock oysters in the international terminal. (Photo by Eileen Mellon) 
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A rendering of Rappahannock Oyster Bar, set to debut at Dulles Airport in April 2024 (Image courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.)
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A rendering of Rappahannock Oyster Bar’s Dulles Airport outpost (Image courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.)
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Rapp Session, the cocktail bar adjacent to Rappahannock restaurant in Richmond, is set to reopen in the coming weeks. (File photo courtesy Rapp Session)
Rappahannock Oyster Co., the namesake venture behind Richmond’s Rapphannock restaurant, is rebounding from a fire that took place two weeks ago at its processing plant in Topping. Co-owner Travis Croxton says camera footage reveals smoke rising from the building, located by the Rapphannock River in Middlesex County, around 7 a.m. and, 10 minutes later, a raging fire.
“One of our neighbors luckily called the emergency services, and the fire department got out there quickly and pretty much contained it by 8 a.m,” he says. “It could have been a lot worse, no one got hurt, and it doesn’t stop us from working, just slows us down bit.”
The majority of the suspected electrical fire was limited to Rappahannock’s processing building — which housed much of its equipment, including newly arrived custom pieces from France — and along the water, damaging a portion of its dock and a boat in its fleet.
“We put a lot of time and effort into actually upgrading the electrical and running the water lines, upgrading the power to get it where we wanted it and finally had finished all that work,” Croxton says. “We had everything set up to be as efficient as we ever have, so that goes to the wayside for a few months.”
Post-fire, processing at that location has been relocated to Rappahannock’s other oysters farms in Chincoteague and Yorktown. The Topping team is currently working from an on-site building that they have used in the past, complete with a cooler. New equipment is on order, though Croxon estimates a long lead time.
Aiming for a six-month bounce back, Croxton emphasizes that Rappahannock’s nearby waterside tasting room, Merroir, was unaffected by the fire, and they’re shucking and serving bivalves by the dozen as usual, and this is indeed a month that ends in “R,” i.e., prime oyster season.
In addition to bringing their existing operation back up to speed, Rappahannock has been working on new projects. Founded in 2001 by Travis and his cousin Ryan, who set out to revive their grandfather’s aquaculture company, Rappahannock has grown into a household name found on menus across the country. They also boast a signature Rappahannock River oyster and three briny trademarks for their Rochambeau, Olde Salt and Barcat Shucks varieties. In 2011, the duo became restaurateurs, opening Rappahannock Oyster Bar locations from The Wharf in Washington, D.C., to Charleston, South Carolina, and Los Angeles. Nearly a decade ago, they debuted Rappahannock on Grace Street downtown, the restaurant garnering attention for its pro-local approach to seafood and making Esquire’s Best Restaurants list upon its introduction. Now, it’s time to strike again. 
“Our sales are the best they’ve ever been in the past two years on the oyster company side,” Croxton says. “On the restaurant side, we’re opening up an outpost at Washington-Dulles International.”
Aiming for an April opening, Rappahannock plans to roll out its fifth oyster bar in the international terminal of the Northern Virginia airport. Traveling patrons can expect the usual suspects on the menu at the modern-meets-casual seafood den that will feature 90 seats and a wraparound bar. 
Croxton says they were approached about the potential project by Jackmont Hospitality, which operates One Flew South, the first-ever James Beard Award-nominated restaurant inside an airport. Located inside Concourse E of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta — the busiest airport in the country — the restaurant is known for a fine-dining approach that blends Southern fare with a fresh sushi bar and impeccable service.
“[Jackmont Hospitality] has done a lot of cool things; they’re smaller, but growing, and just a good fit,” Croxton says of the partnership. “They met with us and went over the concept, and we took the best of all of our locations to figure out what would actually work best in an airport setting, and the rendering looks amazing.”
Rappahannock will be one of four local concepts to debut at the airport. Croxton says it’s an exciting opportunity that aligns with the company’s vision to land Virginia-grown oysters around the world.
“We’re doing a little bit of export overseas and trying to get back into that and just to tie in people seeing us at the airport and in the international area … it’s a win-win,” he says.
Back in Richmond, Rapp Session, Rapphannock restaurant’s adjacent cocktail bar, will come back to life after sitting dormant for nearly two years. Promising later hours (operating until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on the weekends), a boozy focus with small bites, and the return of a cheery, holiday-themed takeover, the relaunch will unfold in the coming weeks.
“We’re really excited about that,” Croxton says. “That’s something that’s missing in that area, and now that there’s a bit more population that lives around there, I think it’ll do well. We just want to bring people back.”
October 12, 2023
12:50 PM
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