May 2017

Old Oyster Factory: An Outstanding Dining Experience

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: John Brackett

Guests enjoy dinner and a sunset on the back deck of the Old Oyster Factory, as seen from the water.

Hilton Head Island’s Old Oyster Factory just gets better with time. In a line of work where the newest and latest get all the accolades and star ratings, what’s the secret to this 27-year-old restaurant’s success story? A commitment to creating outstanding dining experiences. That’s it—outstanding dining experiences. Beginning with a well-run reservation system and the eight carefully created sections of their tempting menu, their house-made desserts, the inviting bar with delightful food and beverage surprises, and the bar and entertainment on the back deck, Old Oyster Factory’s recipe for success has been intentionally designed, from their waterside, oyster shell-laden locale to the complimentary hush puppies.

Guests at Old Oyster Factory have enjoyed a quintessential Lowcountry dining experience perched above what was, from 1925 to 1990, a thriving oyster cannery, until the State declared it a protected habitat and closed it to commercial harvesting. Today, locals in small boats are still seen from the windows and decks of Old Oyster Factory, finding their way among Broad Creek’s oyster beds, harvesting the salty gems for their family tables.

Located on Marshland Road, at nearly the geographic center of the island, Old Oyster Factory is a bit off the beaten path. However, as Old Oyster Factory’s popularity and wait times for tables grew during the summer, the restaurant’s team looked for ways to make the guest experience that much better. With an outside bar and entertainment scheduled on the back deck (six nights a week during the summer), visitors are invited to pass the time while waiting for tables, watching the crabs dash about in the tidal marsh alongside the restaurant’s dock. Longtime Old Oyster Factory entertainer and juggler, Ben Mathews is returning six nights a week for the summer of 2017, said Katie Manley, the restaurant’s marketing director. “He’s great. The adults like him because he will juggle fire and has some impressive tricks, and he’s great with kids too.” The Old Oyster Factory’s dock is always busy, hosting Island Explorer dolphin cruises, the Palmetto Rowing Club, and Hilton Head High School’s rowing team.

The next step in making the Old Oyster Factory experience even better was to shorten the time it took to get a table. Solution: their online reservation program. “A lot of people like it,” Manley said. “If they’re at the beach or up early in the morning, they can quickly take care of their nighttime plans. We still do a call-ahead list, but now that the word has gotten out that we take reservations, that’s cut back on the number of walk-ins and call-aheads. It’s really become a lot more seamless.” There is one down-side, however: less time to enjoy the live music and entertainment on the back deck. “Now a lot of people will go down after dinner to watch the entertainment, hang out, watch the sunset, watch the fireworks [Tuesdays across Broad Creek at Shelter Cove Harbour], when they have a little time between finishing dinner and bedtime.”

Executive chef, Andy Love said taking reservations has also helped maintain the high standards he has for his kitchen. “It’s like night and day. We used to open at 4:45 and the entire restaurant would be seated at once and order nearly all at once. It created a tremendous amount of pressure on the kitchen.”

Originally hired by Franz Auer, one of Old Oyster Factory’s founders, executive chef, and culinary guidepost, Love has headed the kitchen for six years, maintaining Auer’s principles, while putting his imprint on the restaurant. “Franz had that very classical training when it came to dining,” Manley said. “He did weekly wine meetings, and he started the fish school, where he would do pamphlets and they would learn about all the different fish that we serve. He really helped shape the whole Old Oyster Factory experience. We are pretty high volume, but it doesn’t feel that way, because of the individualized attention, beautiful plates, and professional, friendly staff.”

The anchor to the entire Old Oyster Factory experience is the menu: exceptional seafood, steaks, homemade desserts, a wine list curated for perfect pairings, a contemporary craft beer selection, along with dining specials, and a bar menu filled with creative bites. Cultivating well-established relationships with local seafood companies, Love knows what’s in-season, what’s scarce, and how to bring the best of the sea to his diners—shortening the time from hook and net to the plate. The sign of a great piece of fish is the ability to stand up to the simplest preparation, and Love’s seafood always stands up. “As far as I’m concerned, simple salt and pepper in a pan, seared.” This approach easily stands alongside Old Oyster Factory’s two most popular seafood dishes: The Seafood Medley, and the grouper—pecan-crusted, with garlic parmesan rice, vegetables, and finished with peach beurre blanc and sweet Vidalia onion marmalade.

Renowned for their seafood, Old Oyster Factory could choose to take their foot off the gas when it comes to their Steakhouse Selections, but they don’t. With three sumptuous cuts of beef, a center cut pork chop, surf and turf, and seafood and vegetable options designed to elevate the experience, there is something outstanding on this menu for everyone. And like the cherry on top, every table is served complimentary hush puppies… so very Lowcountry.

A part of the community with roots as deep as their oyster shell foundation, and supporter of myriad local causes, the restaurant welcomed islanders home after October’s Hurricane Matthew, hosting events and offering extended happy hours through the fall and winter, including a Chamber of Commerce, “Cocktails and Conversation” event held within a few days of when the island reopened. “We also collected for Deep Well,” Manley said. “We had a great crowd and a tremendous response.”

So, just what is the secret to Old Oyster Factory’s success? Intentionally working to create truly memorable and outstanding dining experiences.

Old Oyster Factory is open seven days from 4:45 p.m. to close. They are located at 101 Marshland Road, Hilton Head Island. For more information or to make a reservation, please call (843) 681-6040 or visit Follow them on Facebook and Instagram. For summer 2017, Old Oyster Factory will be offering their Sunset Dining Menu, and free kids T-shirts are back: one T-shirt with the combined purchase of an adult entrée and child’s entrée.

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