#1 Story
Aqua Restaurant Becoming Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery

Cape Charles' preeminent restaurant retained its original name of Aqua even after ownership changed.  Now the name is changing and so is the theme to more family-oriented, less expensive dining with more emphasis than ever on fresh seafood -- especially oysters. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles’ preeminent restaurant retained its original name of Aqua even after ownership changed two years ago. Now the name is changing and so is the theme to more family-oriented, less expensive dining with more emphasis than ever on fresh seafood — especially oysters. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

February 2, 2015

The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery is coming to Cape Charles, part of a newly branded complex called The Oyster Farm at Kings Creek. If you’re thinking that the name Kings Creek is familiar, you’re right!  This is the new name for the Aqua Restaurant and the Kings Creek Marina.

Big changes are underway to the restaurant, marina, weddings and event center, and villas. The plan is that rebranding will bring many more people and especially families with children to Cape Charles this coming season and afterwards.

So what’s with the Oyster Farm concept? Marketing consultant Hope Lawler explains that Robert Occhifinto, who bought the property two years ago at a foreclosure auction, plans to create a very large oyster farm. Oyster cages measuring 20 inches in diameter and 6 feet long, each with 10 compartments, will be suspended from the sides of the docks. The oysters they produce will be called “Kings Creek Salties.”  The idea is to have an interactive, festival-like environment right on the docks with raw oysters available to eat, hands-on demonstrations of oyster growing, oyster shucking, shucking contests, oyster bakes, BBQs, and bands.


The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery’s menu will be changing with the help of Chef Shelly Cusmina, who is developing new recipes with lower prices while still keeping some of the existing favorites like Thai Shrimp. The new concept plans to draw in more families with children as well as seniors, business people, and wedding parties. The goal is to be welcoming to all and provide fresh local water-to-table cuisine.

Changes to the Eatery will include 10- and 20-foot long fish tanks and a tank with fresh lobsters and crabs in addition to an oyster bar.

Speaking of bars, they will have several new cocktails including an oyster bloody mary and an oyster martini that comes with a fresh oyster and a pearl in the bottom of the glass.

The staff will wear cobalt blue polo shirts emblazoned with their new logo. The Eatery will also provide picnic baskets for guests who prefer to go boating or hiking, or just wish to eat on the beach.

Two new villas will be added, bringing the total to eight rental units ranging from one to four bedrooms. The villas are geared to providing the comforts of home to yachtsmen calling at the marina, but are available to landlubbers as well.

The existing Event Center will continue to host wedding celebrations and other festive events. There are several large spaces available with the biggest being able to hold up to 300 people.  There is also room for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the upstairs loft or out on the new deck overlooking the beach. With the addition of a large beach side tent in the front of the complex it is possible to hold up to two weddings and other events simultaneously.

Existing marina amenities include paddle boards, bicycles, kayaks, golf carts, a small swimming pool, showers,  a laundry, and bathrooms, making the marina a very viable alternative to the Cape Charles Town Harbor. Planned additions include volleyball nets,  fire pits, and other outdoor activities.

Future area changes include the upgrading of the Kiptopeke Inn to mid-priced lodging and an 80-room hotel built right on the Oyster Farm grounds.



34 Responses to “#1 Story
Aqua Restaurant Becoming Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery”

  1. David Gay on February 1st, 2015 9:54 pm

    Looks like we are in for exciting new changes in Cape Charles this summer.

  2. Steve Downs on February 2nd, 2015 10:54 am

    I’m happy to hear that the owner has realized that what he has been doing with the restaurant wasn’t working for the majority of his customers. Although the food served there is tasty the prices are not. His new plan sounds like a winner to me.

  3. Mark Martin on February 3rd, 2015 11:59 am

    I hope this new business does not draw in too much tourism and development, which will harm our nature.

    SARCASM ALERT: Lest readers not understand that the above comment is meant to be sarcastic, we direct them to Mr. Martin’s earlier comment on development — (CLICK).

  4. Joe Banks on February 3rd, 2015 3:56 pm

    I hope they replace the entire facade with sliding glass doors.

  5. Dana Lascu on February 4th, 2015 12:13 am

    Sounds grand – an Eastern Shore riviera with a distinct American-contemporary identity. It will compete well with the tired resorts on the Atlantic coast.

  6. Stephen K. Fox on February 4th, 2015 11:42 am

    I’ve always enjoyed Aqua, but I always had the sense that there was a “disconnect” with ESVA as we know it. It was oriented towards a small population of users. Its finishes are very nice; it rivals some of the best you might find in major cities throughout the USA as a “high end” type establishment. Will it maintain the high end look while attempting to appeal to a larger audience? If so, there may be a continuing “disconnect.” The market will certainly determine if it can now be viewed as a family restaurant. Shanty’s success has probably forced this decision. It will be great to have some dining options. It is also great that the Town’s Harbor venture is making a difference.

  7. Ken Dufty on February 6th, 2015 8:50 pm

    Wishing this new venture every success it could possibly realize. We have said from the start that the Eastern Shore is a treasure waiting to be discovered, and this type of exciting investment and accompanying marketing is long overdue. Here’s to raising an oyster-laden glass to the success of this brave new plan!

  8. Jeff A. Lawer on February 8th, 2015 4:06 pm

    I would be careful changing the name. I think all of the changes to the menu, prices, etc., sound fine but the branding is a very important part of the restaurant. Putting aside that, there is a need for a more upscale restaurant in Cape Charles. Having “oyster” in the name might not appeal to a majority of the families (who they are trying to attract), as many don’t think of seafood as the first choice for children. In addition, my guess is a reasonable majority of people don’t eat or care for oysters (you can probably check that statistic pretty quick on the web). This may pigeonhole the restaurant and turn people away. For example, “The Shanty” is very agnostic and doesn’t imply only seafood. Finally, for weddings, “Aqua” has a very special and unique sound which also matches beautifully with the interior. I think many brides/couples may not find the name “The Oyster Farm” very appealing. Think about how it will sound on their wedding invitations. This is a very special day and the new name may not sound that special (but Aqua certainly does). My recommendation is to do some more market research to the people of the community and to the couples that have gotten married there in the past. You can even poll the people at the restaurant (once you give them their check/bills) and even have them submit names as part of a contest.

    Just remember: “New Coke” vs. Coke. Always ask your customers. Best of Luck, Jeff

  9. Joseph Corcoran on February 9th, 2015 7:24 pm

    I am a regular at Aqua and I agree with Jeff Lawer: you should re-think the Oyster Farm label. I remember when the Machipongo Clam Shack sign read JUST SEAFOOD. Shortly later they changed it to NOT JUST SEAFOOD.

    I am all for the oysters!

  10. Frank Nico on February 10th, 2015 2:18 am

    Agree with Jeff’s observations. The renaming to Oyster Farm is a turnoff and would give message to most that if you don’t have oysters as a favorite meal don’t go there. Jeff’s other point on weddings rings true also. My son’s reception was held at the Aqua and having the invitation read that reception is at the Oyster Farm would not have gone over well.

  11. Sherry Kleese on February 10th, 2015 6:51 pm

    I applaud the new ownership for the vision to attract more people and make the shore as busy as humanly possible. This is a good and certainly increases tourism, development, and more revenue for the shore. More jobs, better incomes, and more shopping is positive. However, this name suggestion is the worst branding decision ever. You don’t need to do any market research because a reasonably intelligent person would realize this is a horrendous name. Aqua is a neutral term. The proposed name is so narrow and will exclude those who don’t eat seafood or oysters. Go Aqua!

  12. Dana Lascu on February 10th, 2015 9:15 pm

    Oyster Farm is American folksy chic. I like it.

  13. Hope Lawler on February 10th, 2015 9:21 pm

    Thank you for all of your support and comments; this tells me that you care. As you know it is hard to write everything down and communicate in a one page write-up but we felt that we wanted to share our new adventure with the locals before sharing with the rest of Virginia. On that note, here is some additional information: The Oyster Farm is where the oysters will be growing. The Restaurant is called The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery, and the wedding venue will be called The Pearl — that is the name of the events and wedding center. That is where couples will celebrate their special day: “The Pearl.” The overall brand is the Oyster Farm. We have been researching and are working hard to make the property very comfortable and welcoming to everyone. Our main goal is for all of Cape Charles to flourish and grow. Where I come from, oysters are appealing, beautiful, classy, plus delicious. But lobsters are our biggest industry, and yes, lobsters are bottom feeders and not nearly as pretty as oysters. We have many venues with the name “Lobster” and “farm” in the title that are very successful as wedding venues, including a Turkey Farm, Hardy Farm, Smith Farm, The Lobster Co., The Portland Club, and Joe’s Boathouse. I could go on forever; these are all beautiful venues with wonderful food and a welcoming atmosphere. Some of the best places in the world have unusual names; those in my opinion turn out to be the best places to go to. Let’s support and see the beauty inside: the sunsets in the evening, and all of the new and fun things we will be bringing to our town this season. Your opinion is valuable to us but I felt that I needed to add some additional information to ease your concerns. I do care about your opinions whether they are pros or cons. On that note, I will be looking forward to meeting you all and celebrate our new brand at our grand opening party coming soon! Thank you once again for all of the thumbs-up and all of your comments.

  14. Mike Kuzma on February 11th, 2015 10:35 am

    Boy, I’d love to see the faces of the people above when they walk into a Cheesecake Factory! A hint folks: there is no factory there, but you can buy cheesecake after you eat your dinner.

  15. Sandra Hoverkamp on February 11th, 2015 12:21 pm

    Re: Frank Nico and Sherry Kleese. So, by your definition, The Great Machipongo Clam Shack only serves clams? The Cape Charles Coffee House only serves coffee? To say the name Seafood Eatery implies only oysters and seafood are served is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. If something this basic has to be spelled out for you, it’s a wonder any business would want to invest in Cape Charles. I think it’s a great idea. I actually went to an oyster farm in California that is doing something similar. We had to book one month ahead and it was jam-packed. I would assume the status quo wasn’t working at Aqua (why fix it, if it’s not broken; perhaps, people thought they were only serving water?) and a brand is worthless if it doesn’t make money. This concept appears to have a real chance to make a difference not only for local businesses but for employment opportunities as well. Best of luck and looking forward to the Grand Opening!

  16. Sherry Kleese on February 12th, 2015 12:41 am

    Hope, you present additional information and explain it clearly. I like that you appreciate diverse perspectives. It shows you are intelligent. The Pearl is a better brand name than Oyster Farm however. Aqua is best in my opinion.

    Mike, I would go to Cheesecake for cheesecake. That is what the factory is all about as everything else is ancillary main focus-cheesecake. It’s not an afterthought, but the prize. The Factory is not in Cape Charles. They have enough brand recognition. We are talking about creating a new brand in Cape Charles, not an existing well established brand with extraordinary name recognition and national advertising.

    Sandra, Aqua Restaurant is less exclusive than hearing Cape Charles Coffee House for the first time. Is your comment based on familiarity with the venues or had you never heard of these eateries? Did you consider people who are not familiar? For those who arrive in Cape Charles, the brand sounds like a coffee house that attracts coffee affection. The Clam Shack sounds like a hub that serves clams. Of course they may offer other items. That’s not the point, it’s about brand focus to attract new clients. Likewise, Oyster Farm leaves the initial impression it’s about oysters and fish. Your comment is like saying Lynnhaven Fish House attracts people who seek pork and beans and fish may be an afterthought.

  17. Frank Nico on February 14th, 2015 7:37 am

    Sherry, I could not have said it better than you.

  18. L. M. Machacek on February 24th, 2015 4:00 pm

    Let’s remember that the average I.Q. in the U.S. is 100.
    People who hear Oyster will think Oyster. If they don’t like oysters or think they don’t like them, they are not coming.
    Sherry’s case is well-stated.

  19. J.J. Powell on March 2nd, 2015 12:24 pm

    Based on the local patronage of the Waterman’s Wednesdays through the winter, I’m sure the local residents and economy were taken into account when making this decision. Properly marketed, any potential diners visiting in the summer would be able to access the new menu online or in partnership with local B&B’s or any of the accomodations offered under the same ownership of the restaurant and marina. I have no doubt that Chef Shelly Cusmina will put together a well rounded menu with all tastes in mind, including those who are gluten-intolerant and vegan. I for one would like to wish them well in this new venture and look forward to dining on the deck once the warm weather returns.

  20. Joe Peirson on March 2nd, 2015 7:06 pm

    The new concept is Oysters grown in a marina and served to the public? FYI, this area is condemned to shellfish harvesting 75% of the year. Keep Aqua and Shelly’s menu.

  21. Dana Lascu on March 4th, 2015 11:46 am

    Their marketing is impressive — excellent rebranding strategy. They need to make sure the various sites — TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, etc. — list the reviews under the new name. Same great food on the menu. Can’t wait to get back!

  22. Deborah Bender on March 4th, 2015 6:19 pm

    I wonder — is the owner of Aqua is aware that in the ’70s a fully loaded crop duster plane landed directly in King’s Creek within 150 yards from the dock? Dumping all the chemicals into the creek. The creek was shut down for over a year because of it. I wouldn’t eat any oysters coming out of King’s Creek!

  23. Jim Henderson on March 5th, 2015 9:12 am

    Way to promote business in your town Deborah. I am sure you have water quality results to back up your attempt at fear mongering. I heard the tide was going out that day and I can’t wait to have a King’s Creek oyster!

  24. Deborah Bender on March 5th, 2015 4:03 pm

    You might want to read the previous remark about the oyster problems in King’s Creek before you hang me out to dry there Jim. Joe Peirson is IN the seafood business so I figure he knows about the oysters that come out of King’s Creek. My husband was raised on King’s Creek and was a young guy when that plane landed in the creek.

    And by the way, I truly wish every success to the new eatery.

  25. Dana Lascu on March 6th, 2015 12:56 am

    I wouldn’t worry about a 1970’s crash – the many storms will have surely cleaned the bay many times over. It also seemed that the oyster theme was more interactive and educational. It would be difficult to cater to the demand with a limited local production. Here is my concern: I hope they continue to stay away from picnic tables – they don’t go well with champagne and truffles at sunset.

  26. Deborah Bender on March 6th, 2015 11:55 am

    I don’t like picnic tables either, Dana. I will say one thing — I went to a wedding there a while back and the food was fabulous. Everything was super organized. It was nothing short of superb! Beautiful day/beautiful sunset/beautiful all around!

  27. Richard Baggett on March 6th, 2015 10:45 pm

    I’m the guy who crashed in Kings Creek in 1976 and there is no need to worry about the water quality in the creek because I believe I consumed the entire creek before getting a breath of fresh air!

  28. Jeff A. Lawer on March 7th, 2015 10:49 pm

    Hello Hope,
    I think all of the comments are valid and the debate brings out both sides of the issues and concerns. Everyone wants Aqua (the restaurant) to succeed. With that, I recently went to a Wolfgang Puck restaurant that was split into two restaurants — one catering towards family (downstairs) and the other catering toward high(er) end dining (upstairs). Is there a way to keep Aqua and introduce the Oyster Farm as well? The interior of Aqua is elegant and goes so well with the name Aqua. The building is also quite large and there is an upstairs and downstairs. Could you keep Aqua in one area and introduce the Oyster Farm in another? I do think that if you change the name and the menu towards just the Oyster Farm, that you won’t differentiate much from the Shanty anyway. This way you can test out the new concept without potentially jeopardizing your current customers.

    The 2008 crash really impacted discretionary spending so I really believe that Aqua would continue to thrive and do well. There is a need for a higher end restaurants like Aqua in addition to the family friendly options. Just a thought.

  29. Daniel Burke on March 8th, 2015 12:45 pm

    Through college I worked for a young man who would buy failing restaurants and turn them into packed moneymakers. His philosophy: What’s on your plate, how it gets to you, and how you feel when you get your bill determines whether you return
    or not. When he got a new place people would always suggest “cool” names. He said you could name it after a fire hydrant and people would keep coming if your quality was right and served properly and was pereceived as a fair value. This was the 1980s. He was way ahead of his time in portion control, time management, buying at locked in prices, etc. Interestingly, he had a “hot food rule.” If that food didn’t get to the table hot, if the chef didn’t fire you the owner would. Tips were great so everyone worked hard and smart. That young man retired a millionaire at age 50. I would guess way more people have lost a million dollars in the restaurant business than have made a million. Anyway, it’s great a lot of people are interested. We love the place. The food is good as well as the service and they seem like genuinely nice folks who know what they’re doing. See you there.

  30. Hope Lawler on March 8th, 2015 1:12 pm

    Hi Jeff,
    I can assure you that we will never lose our elegance or jeopardize our existing clientele and will never turn into tacky. We are just making it more of a confortable setting and welcoming to all. On that note we are working on having the upstairs wear many hats — a bar, a dining area, bands; there are endless possibilities. Please go online to TheOysterFarmAtKingsCreek.com to review the website and take a peek at the new menu — I know you will be pleasantly surprised. Once again, I am looking forward to meeting you all at the grand opening party coming soon. We also have a new General Manager; his name is Bob Dodson. Please stop by to say hi and ask as many questions as you want.

  31. Mark Lo on March 8th, 2015 5:23 pm

    When are these changes happening? We are coming down from Boston in April. What are we going to find? Is the restaurant going to be open or closed? Old menu? New menu?

    We try to go out of our way to stop in Cape Charles when we are in Virginia. We are a family with one kid, and Aqua was our son’s favorite restaurant. If the new restaurant is just another “family-friendly” restaurant, we can get the same anywhere.

    Regarding the name, my wife and I love oysters. My son, not so much.

    Our March 4 follow-up story (CLICK) provides more details including the new restaurant’s website with menu. –EDITOR

  32. Hope Lawler on March 8th, 2015 8:29 pm

    Your son will love the changes. The menu is similar with additional items added. The location, the sunsets, the staff — that is all the same. Please go on the websight TheOysterFarmAtKingscreek.com to look at the new menu. The 22-foot tank with the Sting Rays may not be 100% complete or the final decor changes by April but I assure you it is not just another family-friendly restaurant.

  33. Karen Gay on March 9th, 2015 8:55 am

    We ate there on Saturday night and many of our favorite dishes were still on the menu. There were many new seafood options too. I don’t think that anyone will confuse this restaurant with the Shanty! We had a wonderful meal!

  34. Marsha Krieghauser on March 9th, 2015 12:19 pm

    My husband, mother, & I took a nice ride yesterday from Virginia Beach, Sunday, to have lunch at Aqua and evaluate the location for a wedding for our daughter. We were extremely happy with the first impression of the color of the building, the water view, and the upscale look as you drive in. Very clean and manicured and that’s before spring flowers. The lunch selection was excellent. Lots to choose from. The fish tacos with coleslaw was the best I have ever had anywhere. The creamy crab soup was delicious with fresh bread. My husband’s savory beef/pork burger with portobello mushroom was a manly size and fabulous. Your chef uses attention to detail. The view was breathtaking. We will definitely go out of our way to bring friends and family back again.

    Our overall evaluation of the wedding/event reception room was disappointing. The low ceiling area felt small and like ones at hotels. The “faux decorative painting” on the walls was very amateur-looking. Very sponge painting look. Was much better in the restaurant. As a designer myself, i have some concerns creating the tall upscale lighting look for a grand reveal. It has a workable space.

    Not sure if it’s in your plans, but a sitting area around fire pits off of the grassy area would be nice to end the wedding event, especially to enjoy professional fireworks.

    Congratulations on a beautiful facility!