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When he left the New York offices of Exis Capital Management, Jeff Northrop thought he was leaving behind the expense-account restaurants where his fellow financiers held court. He regained entry into those gilded boîtes through the kitchen door. These days, Northrop makes his living by selling them oysters.
Born in Westport, Conn., Northrop, 25, was raised on the water. His father was a fly-fishing guide who also sold watercraft. Instead of aspiring to work in the family business, Northrop armed himself with an economics degree from Columbia University, and in 2009 took a job as an analyst at Exis. He quickly became disillusioned monitoring the portfolio manager's list of stocks and futures. And then there was the work environment. "The office had like 15 different climate zones," remembers Northrop. "Depending on [his boss's] stress level, he would want it warmer or colder." He left within six months.
Around this time, Northrop's father discovered his family owned a sizable acreage of oyster beds near their Westport property. His father had been selling mollusks to local restaurants, but Northrop suggested expanding the business by offering oysters to posh Manhattan restaurants. With $100,000 of his and his father's savings—plus $35,000 from a former Exis colleague—Northrop incorporated Westport Aquaculture (now called New York Oyster Co.) in July 2010.
An early break came when a friend introduced him to the owner of Lavo, a recently opened Midtown playpen for aspiring jet-setters. Northrop soon began approaching other potential customers cold. Barry Frish, sous-chef at Tribeca's Marc Forgione, remembers Northrop's boldness. "Walking through the door with a box of oysters on ice was definitely a selling point," he says. Now the company supplies 35 restaurants, including Manhattan stalwarts such as Daniel and Balthazar.
While Northrop says his company will sell $450,000 worth of oysters this year, he's not satisfied. His longer-term objective—a marriage of his past and present careers—is to raise money to invest in sustainable fish farms. "My end goal," he says, "is to create the world's first aquaculture hedge fund."
— Oysters delivered to dining spots in New York City on New Year's Eve: 15,000
— Hours it takes Northrop to deliver oysters from harvest to chef: 12
— Average final price of the oysters, including markup, at Manhattan restaurants: $3-$3.75
— Number of hours per week he worked in finance; the same as in oyster farming: 100+
Data: New York Oyster Co.