Tal Petty grew oysters as a hobby at his family’s farm and learned from watermen about the ups and downs of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. While evolving from a hobby to a commercial oyster farming operation, Tal researched different growing methods and gears in different geographies.
As he continued his research, he satisfied his love for travel and fresh coastal seafood, by taking his annual trip to Asia to explore shellfish aquaculture techniques hands on.
His work was so in-depth that it took him to such remote places that most Americans don’t ever get to see – just think “busses and trains and mopeds” to remote coastal communities in China, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Tal’s wanderings taught him a great deal about seafood and various aquaculture techniques, but once he knew it would take him days to find oyster farms on his own, he knew he needed help.
During a trip to Thailand, Tal worked with the government to be introduced to oyster farms and was given a tour guide and translator.
She turned out to be Na Dodchai.
After several days of organized traipsing around the coast of the Gulf of Thailand with his guide (a beautiful woman with incredible business acumen) and several government officials, he began to get to know more about her life.
Na told him she was from a village outside of Khon Kaen in Northeast Thailand, which shares a dialect similar to the Lao language. At age six, she discovered that her allergies and small frame were not suited to farm work. Instead, she started selling ice and prepared foods to her villagers and classmates. She ended up attending high school in the city of Khon Kaen and then college in Bangkok where she was a scarf vendor at night markets to put herself through school.
After college, Na worked as a product representative in and around Bangkok, and then around the entire country. During this time, she enrolled in an accredited tour guide certification program and began working for an international company as their local factory liaison.
Na loved oysters and Tal’s ‘gig’ was a way to find out more about oysters, so it fit… but did it?
Ironically, Tal had recently separated and had made his mind up — no intention of getting involved in any relationship again. Little did he know, Na had a strong personality and she had made a similar vow. She had written off men as part of her future — of course, their timing was perfect!
Tal learned a great deal about suspended oyster aquaculture in the Gulf of Thailand to the benefit of his oyster farm, but something was still missing. Several weeks after Tal went home to Hollywood Oyster Company he had to return to Thailand – this time to seek a relationship with Na.
They traveled to southern Thailand to visit more oyster farms… [oh, and to get to know each other better]. Once Tal returned to the states, Na was able to get a tourist visa to visit Tal because she was a business and property owner back in Thailand.
Funny that Na even agreed — she once announced to her family that she wouldn’t ever be married to a farmer — but soon enough, she was engaged to Tal, the oyster farmer…. And she became one herself!
Soon after marriage, Na had a positive impact on Hollywood Oyster’s bottom line – she ate 2-3 dozen oysters per day! She realized early on; however, that her new husband had limited skills as an oyster shucker.
Lucky for Na, in Hollywood, Md. the National Oyster Shucking championship takes place right down the road from Hollywood Oyster Company. Oftentimes, the national and international champions visit the farm.
Once Na realized that she had access to the best oyster shuckers in the world — she asked them for coaching and quickly became Hollywood Oyster’s ‘official’ shucker.
Na and Tal now travel frequently to visit restaurants and distributors promoting Hollywood Oyster Company.
The couple enjoy oysters most days of the week and that includes the benefits of the “oyster effect,” which you can learn more about in our Official Oyster Guide (*Hint* – oysters bring sexy back).