Ah, weather. Before 40 North could launch, Gregg had to
weather a permitting process “with enough red tape to make
you quit before you start.” He then raised $50,000 from a silent investor, enabling him to buy gear and a hatchery stock of
infant oysters, known as seeds. Finally, on October 25, 2012, 40
North made its first sale—700 3-inchers to a local distributor.
Four days later, Superstorm Sandy slammed the coast.
Scrambling ahead of the gale, Gregg and three helpers man-
aged to sink his oyster-laden bags. “But Sandy destroyed our
boat,” he says, “so we couldn’t get our gear back up. We even-
tually just paid somebody else to come out, but it was too late.
The oysters got covered with mud and slowly died.”
Devastated, Gregg launched an online Kickstarter fundrais-
ing campaign that brought in about $10,000, little more than a
down payment on a fresh start.
The campaign happened to catch the eye of veteran New
York restaurateur Chris Cannon. Over the years, Cannon has
owned five New York restaurants that each won three stars
from the New York Times, most recently Marea. A Mountain
Lakes resident, Cannon is transforming the long-vacant 1917
Vail Mansion in Morristown into a multi-concept restaurant
to open next spring, called Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen. He
had been enthusiastically researching Garden State farms,
breweries and purveyors to supply the new restaurant.
“Jersey is seen as a backwater, but the more you look, the
more you see great stuff here, and it still has so much more
potential,” he says. “I love oyster bars. They’re inherently convivial places. I called Matt and said, ‘I think I can help you tremendously marketing your product in the city and make you
the house oyster at Jockey Hollow.’” In August they signed a
deal giving Cannon a 20 percent stake in 40 North and Gregg
a much-needed cash infusion. It also gives Cannon a better
price than the roughly 85-cent per oyster market rate.
“The passion Matt has for what he’s doing reminds me of
me when I was his age,” says Cannon, 52. “I want to build a
business with him.”
“I had a lot of people interested in investing,” says Gregg,
“but given Chris’s record of success and everything he’s done
in the industry, it just made the most sense.”
THE TASK TODAY IN GREGG’S no-frills, 19-foot, one-time lobster boat is as simple and straightforward as its power source, a
50-horsepower Honda outboard. Back in August, he filled each
of 100 plastic mesh bags with 1, 300 roughly half-inch seeds—
Rutgers-type babies hatched about 13 weeks earlier at a hatchery on Cape Cod. Today he’s about halfway through the six-week process called splitting—as the oysters double in size, the
contents of one bag are split into t wo bags.
“Every oyster grower will admit that it’s extremely low-
tech,” he says. “But you have to have what I call a blue thumb.
You need to understand the water, the tides, the weather, deal
with predators like blue crabs and drill snails and be somewhat
mechanically savvy, because you’re dealing with a boat and
structures that have to be moved around.”
When one cycle of splitting is done, it will soon be time to
begin the next cycle. When the oysters reach two to three inch-
es, they’re ready to eat.
If you gulp an oyster, you miss its flavor. Chew. What you
taste is the equivalent of terroir, the flavors wine grapes sift
from the soil. Oyster people like Rutgers’s Flimlin call it mer-
roir, from mer, French for sea. How can all the many kinds of
Eastern Oyster taste so different if they are all the same spe-
cies? Merroir. Gregg has his eye on a site near Barnegat Inlet,
about 20 miles south of his present lease. “If that’s approved,”
he says, “those oysters will taste totally different from the ones
I grow here.”
Next spring at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, Cannon will
be serving 40 North oysters. “It annoys me that restaurants
charge $3 an oyster,” he says. “You can’t eat more than a few at
that price.” His investment in 40 North will enable him to sell
them for $1 apiece, weekdays from 4 to 6 PM.
Order a dozen, and skip the hot sauce. You’re tasting a very
special slice of the Jersey Shore. ■