Strangers come into The Station Raw Bar all the time, but it seems they all leave as friends.
The gas-station-turned-restaurant is a popular spot for Apalachicola’s tourists looking for a meal of fresh seafood.
It is also a favorite of locals, who know it as “the station” or “Pendleton’s station” to old-timers.
Since its rebirth as a restaurant, it is once again a popular downtown gathering spot.
It is easy to see how the establishment got its name. There is no mistaking this was a gas station. For 37 years, the Pendleton family operated it on Apalachicola’s main thoroughfare.
Four years ago, a new generation of Pendletons turned the familiar downtown building into a restaurant featuring the seafood for which Apalachicola has long been known.
T.J. and his wife, Andrea, now own the restaurant.
While today’s work is much different from pumping gasoline at the station, the spot is familiar to T.J. He started working at the family business when he was 9 years old.
“I worked there until I was 21,” T.J. says.
He left the family business to pursue his own career, thinking it was the end of an era, “but here I am,” he says, smiling, of his return to the station.
Andrea and T.J. opened the raw bar in 2017. Since his father’s retirement in 2008, the building had been sitting empty. The idea for a restaurant was Andrea’s.
“She said, ‘I want to open an oyster bar in the garage,’” T.J. recalls. “I said, ‘Go ahead, if that’s what you want.’ She said, ‘No. I want you and me to open it.’ She came to me on Thursday and said she needed an answer by Monday.”
The answer was yes—and the couple has never looked back. Now this thriving Pendleton business has sons working beside their dad.
“We have two sons, Jacob and Hunter, who work here,” Andrea notes, “and a brother works here. It’s a family-run business for sure.”
In its fourth year, the restaurant continues to grow in popularity, with fresh oysters a top menu item.
While Apalachicola was known for its oysters, Andrea saw an opportunity that wasn’t being met.
“There wasn’t a real oyster bar here—one where you can watch them shuck the oysters,” Andrea says. “People like to watch that. It’s part of the entertainment.”
Oysters are shucked and served to order, right at the bar. Both raw and baked, by the dozen and half-dozen, they are the stars of the menu.
“We probably sell as many of those as we do raw,” Andrea says of the baked oysters, which can be topped with crabmeat and bacon, jalapenos and cheddar, Parmesan and butter or a secret Rockefeller recipe of master shucker James Hicks.
Andrea says James is a big part of the entertainment she wanted the oyster bar to have.
“People come from all over to see him,” she says, calling James a professional shucker and “president of the liars’ club.”
The Apalachicola native has spent his career harvesting, shucking and eating oysters.
“I was born and raised in this town,” he says. “My dad was a commercial oysterman. I was a commercial oysterman. I used to get on the oyster bar before daylight. When I would see that sun peeking up, I’d just sit and watch it. It was beautiful.”
The wild oyster harvest in the waters surrounding Apalachicola is currently closed, so the Pendletons’ local oysters are now farm-raised. They also serve wild-caught oysters from other Gulf states. Farm-raised oysters are growing in popularity at restaurants and retailers throughout the Gulf.
“We can get local farm-raised oysters,” Andrea says. “They’re from right out here in our waters.”
She and James say the closure is good for the long-term sustainability of the resources and future of the famous Apalachicola oyster industry.
Farm-raised or wild, James doesn’t just shuck them.
“I love ’em,” James says. “I could eat ’em for breakfast.”
James loves working with the Pendletons as well. He watched in 2017 as they converted the station into a restaurant.
“I worked across the street,” he says. “I saw they were doing a great job and were super nice people.”
While The Station doesn’t serve oysters for breakfast, it is open for lunch and dinner.
As a 21-year-old, T.J. thought he had worked his last day at the gas station, but “now we work 12 hours a day, five or six days a week here, and four or five hours the other days.”
T.J. and Andrea have created an atmosphere reminiscent of the classic gas station gathering place. T.J. recalls how locals would spend time visiting while his father worked under the hood of a car.
Now, locals visit while he, his sons and James shuck oysters at the bar—and they are joined by tourists, many of whom come back year after year.
Nobody is a stranger here.