If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a time-honored adage. It just isn’t one that restaurateurs James and Sarah Doss, owners of Rx Chicken & Oysters, adhere to. The couple revamped their popular restaurant, Rx Restaurant & Bar, to create Rx Chicken & Oysters.
The updated eating establishment, still at 421 Castle St., has a new menu, a casual vibe and a new name.
Rx Chicken & Oysters’ eclectic menu features local seafood, including oysters, lionfish and clams the Dosses farm and harvest themselves, as well as favorites from the former Rx.
The Dosses’ decision to give Rx a makeover came from their desire for more – to do more to ensure the quality of the food they serve, to do more to protect the environment, to be more creative in their work and to have more fun.
“We just wanted to do something that allowed us to be outside a little bit more and to know exactly how the product we are serving was treated and what the quality of that product is,” Sarah Doss said. “And we wanted to be feeling a little bit more invigorated. Learning is very important to us. We wanted to feel more challenged and creative.”
The Dosses decided the way to meet those goals – maybe – was through commercial fishing.
Before taking a deep dive into the industry, the Dosses tested the waters by working as unpaid apprentices to James Hargrove, owner of Middle Sound Mariculture. Finding that they loved the experience, the couple decided that commercial fishing was a definite go and branched out on their own. They currently farm oysters in Stump Sound and Topsail.
The Dosses’ home-grown oysters, called Lucy Beas after their pups, are a staple on Rx Chicken & Oysters’ menu, and the Dosses have already seen how farming their own oysters pays off for them and their customers. For example, when the restaurant ran out of oysters one evening, the Dosses asked their team members to harvest some more the next morning.
“You can’t get much fresher than that,” Sarah Doss said.
Farming their oysters also gives the Dosses another way to practice sustainability. In addition to helping to purify local waters – an adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day – the Dosses hope that putting farmed oysters in the water and building an oyster reef will contribute to the growth of wild oysters.
The Dosses’ concern for the North Carolina coastline also influenced their decision to spear and serve lionfish at Rx Chicken & Oysters. Though lionfish are delicious, they are rarely seen in restaurants because each fish has to be speared individually, Sarah Doss explained.
However, these fish are predators that are decimating the area’s natural fish, and it is imperative that their population is controlled, she added.
“We both are scuba divers and understand what a problem lionfish are on our coast,” she said. “They are voracious eaters that reproduce quickly. If lionfish hit a reef, they reduce the other fish population there by 70%.
“We are helping protect the rest of the fish population and our entire ecosystem. It’s one of the best things we can do for our environment.”
The third aspect of the Dosses’ commercial fishing venture is farming clams, which will also be served at Rx Chicken & Oysters as soon as they are mature enough to harvest.
While the Dosses enjoy their new roles as commercial fishermen, they aren’t immune to the industry’s challenges: The weather obliterates a harvest, it rains too much and shellfish can’t be harvested, the salinity level of the water kills the oysters’ food – the list goes on.
Recently, the couple couldn’t bring in a needed supply of lionfish because they couldn’t see the fish. Storms had made the water opaque.
“The last two times we went out, the seas were so murky from the nor’easter that came through, our visibility was next to nothing,” Sarah Doss said. “We’d like to have lionfish on the menu all the time, but we are totally on the weather’s timeline.”
The vagaries of commercial fishing notwithstanding, James Doss, the restaurant’s executive chef, has created a seasonal menu for Rx Chicken & Oysters with a heavy emphasis on seafood. The restaurant’s new dishes include fish, fried oysters, fried shrimp or pork confit tacos and shrimp burgers. Favorites from the former Rx Restaurant & Bar, such as shrimp and grits, chili cheeseburgers, shrimp burgers and fried chicken, are also on the menu.
When reinventing their restaurant, the Dosses also revised the price points of their dishes.
“There’s something for everyone,” Sarah Doss notes. “We want the restaurant to be accessible to our community. That’s really important to us. … We don’t want to be just a special occasion restaurant. We want to be a restaurant where people come in once a week, not once a month, and there are dishes on the menu that won’t break the bank.”
More changes are in the works. In the next six months or so, the Dosses will also offer their own spirits, starting with vodka and gin and perhaps rum and liqueurs, and they will make their sodas as well.
In addition, the Dosses plan to expand into the house next door, where they will house their beers and spirits and have a small tasting room next year.
The Dosses’ gamble on a new and different Rx appears to be paying off. Sarah Doss said business has been good for Rx Chicken & Oysters since it opened in December.
“We’re seeing a lot of familiar faces and new ones, too,” she said, “which is encouraging.”