From Riverside to the Sea

2003 graduate Ryan Bethea shows Riverside students how to shuck and oyster.
photo by Fabian Hernandez

As he walked down the Riverside hallways 16 years after he graduated, Ryan Bethea joked about how much has changed.

Bethea was amazed that “Lang” was still around.

“I remember [English teacher Jeff] Lang,” he said. “I didn’t have a great relationship with him. I’m sure he’s great. I was just a jerk.”

Lang recognized him immediately and recalled his “missed potential.”

”I don’t know if he was just thinking soccer,” Lang said.

Bethea was a standout soccer player in high school, but admitted he was not the most dedicated student.

“Remembering all the people that tried to help me, it was overall a humbling experience”, said Bethea as he walked past the ROTC hangar.

He was also surprised to learn that he isn’t the only one who’s changed. He had no idea Lang’s wife is his old Spanish teacher, Anuja Munshi.

“Woah you guys got married? Nice!” he said.

Bethea’s journey from Riverside to an oyster farm on the NC coast was long and winding. He planned to attend college and later become an attorney, but things changed during February of his senior year when he took advantage of his lunch leave pass and was expelled.

Bethea returned a year later and graduated from Riverside in 2003.

Bethea attended three different colleges – UNC Pembroke, North Carolina Central and Appalachian State.  He majored in political science, and worked as a bartender and traveled for several years during and after college.  He also taught eighth grade science for a couple years in Franklin County, but spend more and more of his free time around the sea. Through an externship, he met Dr. James Morris, who offered him a lease on a 5-acre oyster farm.

Bethea used those 5 acres and founded a company, Oysters Carolina, where he now works as the sole employee and manager. He grows his oysters near Harker’s Island, an area famous for its salty water. In 2016 they were named “Oyster of the Year” at the North Carolina Seafood Festival.

“NC has the best water,” he said.

Bethea continues to work on the farm most mornings and supplies fresh oysters to be eaten raw or cooked across North Carolina. He travels to the Triangle to deliver his oysters to buyers about twice a week. He spends a lot of time driving, but he doesn’t want to do anything else.

“My grandfather on both sides are oyster farmers,” he said. “There is a bit of nostalgia and it’s more lucrative.”

Six raw oysters. Bethea owns his own oyster farm near Harker’s Island, NC.
photo by Fabian Hernandez

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