In the fall of 2005, Centreville’s Mark and Karen O’Neal were sitting on the deck of their house in the woods, enjoying a quiet moment and talking about what might be. Mark had sold wholesale seafood for years, and though he’d learned a lot and made many industry connections, he also saw an evolving business landscape. Markets transforming. Big companies buying out smaller ones. In the relatively near future his position with the wholesaler he worked for may not be as secure as it seemed. If, on the other hand, nothing changed, he and Karen were always going to be working toward somebody else’s bottom line. Addressing the most basic of entrepreneurial questions, they wondered aloud if the time was right to start their own thing.
And then, “still not 100% certain,” they just went ahead and did it.
For about a decade, their Bay Shore Steam Pot operated from the O’Neal’s front yard, selling seafood 750 feet off a back road outside of town. Beginning with a prototype food truck and primary advertising that consisted of cheap roadside signs stuck in the ground at strategic locations, Bay Shore Steam Pot, now located at 111 E. Water Street, has grown into one of Centreville’s favorite family-owned and -operated retail businesses.
Mark kept his full time job as he and Karen were taking baby steps with Bay Shore, but running even a weekend business outside their front door while holding down other responsibilities wore thin. Then, just as they’d foreseen as a distinct possibility from the get-go, the company Mark worked for was bought out by a multinational corporation. The O’Neals looked at this development as an opportunity. Mark left wholesale completely and he and Karen dove full time into the retail waters.
Their storefront opened in May of 2015. As with almost any new enterprise, some of those first years were better than others, and the lesser years were particularly worrisome because the endeavor hadn’t yet truly established itself. Then came Covid.
While many businesses struggled to adapt, stay open, and provide services, Bay Shore Steam Pot didn’t have to recreate themselves. They hadn’t known it, but the O’Neal’s carry-out/cook-at-home business plan was “built for the pandemic.” When fresh ingredients became difficult to come by, Bay Shore had access to supply chain participants who could increase bulk deliveries. They put together Essential Produce Packages: tomatoes, greens, apples, citrus fruits, potatoes, everything but a protein. Many customers, some taking advantage of curbside service, purchased packs for others, leaving those essentials behind for neighbors in need. The pandemic strengthened the couple’s customer base as well as their commitment to their community.
As evident by their company’s name, the O’Neals always intended their product line to be centered around the steam pot concept. Their signature offerings start with a big, reusable metal pot brimming with the basics – sweet corn, potatoes, onions, and sausage – along with shellfish options that include shrimp, scallops, little neck clams, mussels, crab legs, and lobster tail seasoned with either Old Bay or garlic and herb. Customers order from tried-and-true combinations or customize ingredients to their specific tastes, take the pot home, add water, wine or beer, I prefer beer, and after steaming for 20 minutes, treat themselves to a bountiful feast. They can even bring the pot back next time for a discount.
The Bay Shore Steam Pot showcase spread includes an array of the freshest shellfish and finfish available. Their homemade crab cakes, packaged to take home or cooked to-go, are one of O’Neal’s top sellers. The quality of the crabmeat is evident and their recipe is a matter of native pride. Scottish Salmon is another in-demand item. With a reputation as being the best in the world, Mark assumes this high quality, sustainably raised protein’s popularity stems from its known nutritional health benefits. “Soft Crabs are always in demand, too, especially,” it seems to Mark, “when they’re scarce.”
Over the years, the O’Neals have added to their initial front yard offerings. A carry-out menu. Sandwiches, plates, sides, and munchies. Party platters. A market-priced bucket of freshly prepared crab cake mix ready to be made into cakes or balls. Sushi. Premium aged Certified Angus Beef, making Bay Shore Steam Pot a one-stop shop for cook-at-home surf and turf. The one thing they don’t sell is steam crabs. Mark figures the inflated lower Queen Anne’s County crab market is tourist-driven and most locals already have their hard crab hook-ups in place. One of the O’Neals goals is to offer products that otherwise might not be easily available up-county. By focusing on providing their clientele with a wider range of high quality choices, Bay Shore Steam Pot has earned its recognition on the area food scene.
Open Tuesday through Saturday (410-758-3933), the bayshoresteampot.com website offers hours, prices, a list of weekly specials, and years of collected recipes to help make the best of your seafood ingredients.
Brent Lewis is a native Chesapeake Bay Eastern Shoreman. He has published two nonfiction books about the region, “Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake” and a “History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department.” His most recent book, “Stardust By The Bushel: Hollywood On The Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore”won a 2023 Independent Publishers award. His first novel, Bloody Point 1976, won an Honorable Mention Award at the 2015 Hollywood Book Festival. He and his wife Peggy live in Centreville, Maryland.