Supporting their community is kind of a big deal at Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
They have great food like their Shunk Burger where they blend their meat in-house, top it with sharp Vermont cheddar, smoky applewood bacon, caramelized onions, tangy tomato jam, all on a toasted challah bun. And fresh Gulf seafood like the Summer Grouper served with Southern Style Succotash filled with field peas, zucchini, onions, shishito peppers, and smoky bacon. And the daily chef specials featuring the freshest seasonal ingredients available from local purveyors.
They have fantastic cocktails like their top-secret-recipe Bushwacker. They have an incredible view sitting on the top deck looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. They have the ultimate spot to watch sports on 30A since they enclosed the North Deck space, added 12 TVs, and an additional expansive bar to serve guests.
And they have oysters…lots of oysters. They serve them raw. They serve them chargrilled. They serve them topped with tasty ingredients like Meyer lemon and jalapeno, a basket of crackers and cocktail sauce on the side.
But it’s what’s happening behind the scenes with those oysters that shines.
“We sell a lot of oysters here, thankfully, and have about 42,000 leftover shells a week. We have receptacles where the oyster shucker deposits the shucked shells. Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) picks them up two or three times a week. They process the shells by cleaning them, laying them out in the field to dry, and bagging them. At different times of the year CBA and their teams, including local volunteers, deploy those bags to construct new reefs. Oysters prevent coastal erosion. The artificial reefs with those oyster shells stimulate replenishment of oyster beds and the marine environment because where the little fish go, the big fish follow,” said George Barnes, Director of Business Development.
In addition to the partnership with CBA to donate used oyster shells to build their reefs in local waterways, Shunk Gulley is getting guests involved in leaving their mark on 30A in a positive way through the Offer Your Shell to Enhance Restoration (OYSTER) initiative. “We take cleaned oyster shells and offer them to our guests and visitors to decorate for a $5 donation. The donations go directly to the CBA, and the decorated shells become a part of an artificial reef in our area,” said Kendra Marasa, Marketing and Special Events Manager.
Chad Perko, CBA’s Ecology Technician elaborated, “Our community is home to the Choctawhatchee Bay, which stretches 30 miles from east to west and consists of brackish waters that are home to abundant wildlife and diverse recreational opportunities, making it the lifeblood of our area’s current and future ecological and economic health. Of all the creatures that call the Choctawhatchee Bay home, the humble oyster is perhaps the most important to the bay’s health. Oysters act as Mother Nature’s water filtration system, improving the water clarity [benefitting] the entire bay, and by extension, our community.”
And the care for the community doesn’t stop at oysters. Marasa gushed about the money raised among the team to partner with Habitat for Humanity of Walton County to sponsor their Hard Hats and High Heels event. The proceeds helped build homes for single mothers and their families in the local community.
Over the holidays the team sponsors children through Caring & Sharing’s Angel Tree initiatives. “We personally purchase gifts for these children from their wish lists to help bring Christmas to these local families. We have done this each year since I have joined the team, and plan to carry on the tradition here at Shunk Gulley,” said Marasa.
A stop at Shunk Gulley reveals walls filled with plaques denoting support and sponsorship for many other local organizations including sports teams, schools, sheriff’s offices, and more. Their commitment to community impact is admirable.
Guests can feel good next time they are on that upper deck taking in a cotton candy sunset, dipping some hand-cut Duck Fat Gulley Fries into housemade garlic aioli, sipping on some Shunk Juice, that they are supporting a business that gives back generously.