The July 2021 edition of South Sound Business is the Legacy Business Issue. Here is the third in a series of features about local businesses steered by second-, third-, or fourth-generation leaders. Read the last story here.  

What started as a small oyster farm grew into a family legacy. It began in Totten Inlet with the fledgling Olympia Oyster Co. under the stewardship of J.Y. Waldrip.

Waldrip roamed the United States in the late 1800s trying his hand as a gold miner, pharmacist, blacksmith, and horse breeder — he even famously spent time ranching with Wyatt Earp in Arizona — but settled on oystering with a 300-acre tideland title.

But it wasn’t until the arrival of Justin Taylor, a descendant of Waldrip, that Taylor Shellfish Farms became the household name that it is today.

Justin Taylor wanted to ensure the future of the environment as well as his business, and he did that through becoming an advocate for water quality and an innovator of farming techniques. He was the first to file an environmental lawsuit against the pulp-mill industry in Washington. Taylor Shellfish Farms has significantly contributed to the restoration efforts of Olympia oyster populations in South Puget Sound.

And this sustainability mindset was passed down to his children — the fourth generation of Taylor Shellfish — who now run the family business.

Bill and Paul Taylor and their brother-in-law, Jeff Pearson, have grown the company past the tidelands, bringing their product from tide to table. Over the past 30 years, the three have expanded the product line to include geoduck, mussels, and a variety of half-shell oysters. They have created a family environment of more than 500 employees, including their children.

“Just as I know my dad was proud that I had the passion to grow shellfish, I am proud that my children are working to further our legacy,” Paul Taylor said on the company’s website. “As our farms continue to grow and change, so will we. With an expanding range of growing techniques and farm sites, we will continue to deliver the ultimate shellfish experience from tide to table.”

Paul Taylor. Courtesy of Taylor Shellfish Farms via Facebook

Marcelle Gonzalez, the company’s marketing manager and a member of the Taylor family, said it’s been great to work with family.

“We all know each other so well, and we can work together to help each other,” she said.

Though Taylor Shellfish Farms has been a successful business for more than 100 years, Gonzalez said it’s seen some tough challenges.

“We’re still farmers,” Gonzalez said. “We still deal with a lot of what other farmers face: poor crops, regulation changes, employment, and others. But we get through it just like everyone else.”

Aside from typical farming problems, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the company hard. “Most of our products go to restaurants. And when they were forced to close, it hurt us a lot,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic, the company had to adjust its sales to where its consumers were.

However, now that restrictions are easing and restaurants are beginning to reopen, Taylor Shellfish is beginning to return to business as usual.

Family and sustainability are at the core of Taylor Shellfish Farms, along with its products. And the family hopes to continue its legacy with each new generation.