By Shelley Basinger
When Oliver Russell left his family’s third-generation shipyard behind in early 2020 to move to Lynchburg, he knew parting with the life he knew along the Carolina Coast would be tough.
But as the owner of the thriving Marsh Roots Seafood Company reflects 18 months later: “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.”
Getting Hooked on LYH
Oliver’s leap of faith to the Hill City was Claire Lockman, his girlfriend, who had already moved to the area to attend Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine. After ten years running the family shipyard and doing charter fishing in Morehead City, N.C., he made the “difficult decision” to relocate.
About six weeks into his new life, Oliver got the sign he needed for his next career: The couple couldn’t find any tuna steaks to make their traditional Valentine’s Day meal at home.
“Within a week, Oliver had formulated this plan to start the company,” Claire said. “He told me, ‘I’m going to the beach to get a load of seafood to sell at the market this Saturday.’”
“I called the market and they were so excited and said, ‘We have been looking for a seafood market for forever,’” Oliver added.
Oliver networked with some of the fisherman he knew near his hometown and made the drive down to pick up his first load. That first weekend, Oliver sold everything he had brought back: 100 pounds of shrimp and 20 pounds of tuna. He sold out the next weekend, too.
Then—the pandemic. The Lynchburg Community Market closed down, and Oliver was left wondering what was next for his brand new venture.
“This is where it turns into story about how great Lynchburg was. Oliver had lived in Lynchburg all of a month, was in business for one week, before we had to take everything online with maybe 100 followers. But people were asking, ‘How can we support you guys?’” Claire said.
“The community really rallied around what we were doing very heavily,” Oliver added.
Marsh Roots Seafood Company continued to gather faithful customers at the Lynchburg Community Market throughout the year and even added an outpost location in Forest, where they sell seafood in the parking lot of T.Y. Realty every Friday.
From the Dock to the Dinner Table
As CEO and founder of Marsh Roots, Oliver puts in a good amount of windshield time to make sure he is stocked for sales in Lynchburg and Forest.
“I drive down every Wednesday and go straight to the marina or to some fish houses I know, from friends and from being in the charting industry,” he said.
Which means customers can find out from Oliver exactly where their seafood came from—and when it was caught.
“I know most of the people I do business with on a first-name basis,” he said. “They will text me and say, ‘Hey I’m going fishing tomorrow. You want anything?’”
He says shrimp, scallops and soft shell crabs are the most popular items they sell to Central Virginia customers. They also have had a lot of success with their pre-made items, such as a shrimp dip, shrimp salad, and crab cakes.
“It’s really cool to share recipes that we would make at home,” he said. “It’s cool to mass produce them so everyone can enjoy.”
Aside from simply selling fresh fish, Oliver is also passionate about educating this community about seafood—and addressing some misconceptions, including:
I stay away from seafood because it doesn’t have long shelf life.
Oliver says some customers think they have to eat seafood quickly, which may deter people who buy in bulk and meal plan for the week ahead.
“Ours is so fresh it will last three or four days in the fridge. If you come on Saturday you can still eat it Wednesday,” Oliver explained, adding that while fresh seafood is best, you can always freeze fish or shrimp to enjoy later if your plans change.
My favorite seafood is probably available whenever I want it.
“There is a modern westernized American mentality. ‘Let’s go to Sam’s Club and get a tomato in the middle of winter.’ Same thing with seafood. We are going to have fish available when they are available,” Oliver said.
Offerings will change throughout the year, so customers who want fresh seafood, not farmed, have to learn to eat what’s in season. This is a good thing because it leads to customers trying new things, instead of just sticking with their “favorite” fish.
According to Oliver, our current season (July/August) is the peak time for pretty much everything in the world of seafood—from tuna to mahi to Spanish Mackerel.
Seafood is intimidating; it’s hard to cook!
“We want to make eating seafood less of a scary thing for people who didn’t grow up around it, because it’s so good for you,” said Claire.
Oliver says seafood is actually “super easy” to cook: “Just throw it into the pan and add butter and spices.”
The “hard” part may be that seafood doesn’t need to cook for very long—meaning you can’t put it in a pan and forget about it. Most fish, scallops and shrimp only cook for a few minutes on each side, he explained.
Oliver loves being able to talk to customers one-on-one about how to prepare and cook their seafood. But what he treasures even more than those conversations are the follow-up reports from local home kitchens.
“People are sending us photos all of the time of what they are making,” Claire said. “It’s so neat to know we are making average weeknight meals so much better.”
Below, Oliver and Claire share a couple of their favorite recipes for you to try!
Cast Iron Seafood Pasta
This coastal twist on the traditional spaghetti night is easy and flavorful!
1 pound linguine or angel hair pasta
1 pound shrimp peeled/deveined
Half pound, 10-20 ct. sea scallops
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
8 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
1/3 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup parsley
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup pine nuts
Olive oil as needed
Salt and pepper as needed
Basil or parsley for garnish
Bring 1-2 quarts of water to a boil and salt heavily. Add pasta. While the pasta is cooking make your homemade pesto by adding all the pesto ingredients to a food processor and blending. (If you decide to buy store-bought pesto, pour yourself a glass of wine!) Note: the ingredients should reach a smooth consistency from a slow addition of olive oil as they process, and once you see that fine grain you are good to stop blending. Set aside.
Bring your cast iron pan to low heat. Add butter and garlic, and allow butter to melt. Add shrimp and scallops, evenly spaced, wait about 2 minutes then flip each one to cook on the opposite side. Remember: Scallops should turn white and shrimp should turn pink when cooking. As you cook, make sure everything is getting a nice garlic-butter bath. If you are going to add cherry tomatoes now is the time, and allow them to begin softening.
Drain your pasta and set aside.
Once your shrimp and scallops have cooked for about 2-3 minutes on each side, add the pesto and allow to reach a simmer. If you are adding spinach, now is the time—let it begin to soften and wilt in the sauce. Add your pasta to the simmering seafood and pesto in your cast iron and coat thoroughly through the mixture. Leave on low for another 3-5 minutes covered or uncovered.
Serve with fresh basil and grated parmesan. Enjoy!
Fresh Catch Summer Salad with Strawberries
Enjoy summertime on a plate with this refreshing, sweet, and delicious salad!
1-2 pounds fileted fish (our favorites are black bass, speckled trout, or any of the fresh catch from Marsh Roots Seafood)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 ounce Key West Blend Seasoning (available at Marsh Roots Seafood)
2 tablespoons butter
1 lemon slice
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 bag of spring mix
1 bag of arugula
1 pint strawberries, sliced
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup candied pecans, crushed (optional, can be found in stores)
Sunflower sprouts and your favorite microgreens (optional)
2/3 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 shallot finely diced
Salt and pepper as needed
Grab your favorite fish filet from your favorite local seafood market (Read: Marsh Roots Seafood Company). Rinse and pat dry—always make sure while patting dry to feel for bones along the spine of the filet and remove if necessary.
Once patted down, coat evenly with Key West seasoning and salt and pepper on both sides. Drizzle with olive oil. Slice butter and lemon. Add butter directly onto the filet and then add lemon slices. Wrap in foil and cook in the oven at 350 for 20-25 minutes or on the grill. You can also pan roast in a cast iron pan on the stove top with a little olive oil to avoid the filet sticking to the pan.
While the fish is cooking, make your dressing by adding the dressing ingredients to a bowl or mason jar. (We always do this in case there is any left over, then just cap and throw it in the fridge. Ready to pour on tomorrow’s salad!) Once added, whisk together well and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Assemble your salad with your bed of fresh greens, sliced strawberries, goat cheese, and crushed candied pecans. Add the fish filets and pour the dressing.
Get Reeled In
Follow Marsh Roots on Facebook and Instagram for updates or better yet, visit their website, MarshRootsSeafood.com, to sign up for their newsletter to be in-the-know about the latest offerings and deals.
Marsh Roots Locations and Hours
Inside the Lynchburg Community Market
Tues., Wed.: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Thurs., Fri.: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sat.: 7 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Forest Outpost at T.Y. Realty Parking Lot
Fri.: 2 – 6 p.m.