Donny Miles – Born to be an Oysterman
Some folks choose their line of work out of necessity. Others choose something they think they’ll love. And a rare, lucky few are born into their profession. For Donny Miles – born August 6, 1966 in Oyster, Va. – becoming an oysterman was fate.
Oh, let us tell you: it was meant to be. Donny’s family tree is flush with fishermen. His great grandfather, Tom Bell, Sr., was born in the Village of Broadwater on Hog Island, Va., and was working on the water catching oysters, clams and bay scallops at the tail end of the 19th Century. Donny’s grandfather, Berlie L. Bell, followed in his own father's footsteps until a storm dealt a serious blow to the Village of Broadwater, and he opted to relocate to Oyster and the mainland. It was there that B.L. eventually opened his own oyster shucking house, which would later sell oysters to the Campbell Soup Company.
And that’s just half of the equation. Enter Don M. Miles, of Nassawadox, Va., who himself had been crabbing and working the local waters since the age of 10. Don arrived in Oyster in 1962, where he began work for B.L. Bell. In 1964 joined the Bell family outright, marrying Berlie's daughter Bonnie. By 1967, just mere months after the birth of Donny, Don had begun working for himself, crabbing and planting oysters.
With family history like that, it was only a matter of time before Donny became immersed in the trade his ancestors. His first contributions came at age 8, in the form of crab pots. No matter how experienced a crab fisherman may be, he's doomed to fail without dependable equipment that he knows from the inside and out. And so young Don was given a special form of "homework" by his father: Everyday, after school, he was required to make two new crab pots.
By age 10 Donny started pulling double duty. Parts of his days were spent working at his grandfather's oyster house, B.L. Bell & Son Seafood. His school breaks, weekends and summers, meanwhile, were spent on the water crab potting and dredging with his father.
By 16 he was crabbing on his own, using a boat of his father's. He'd oyster after school and on weekends for his grandfather. When he graduated from high school two years later his hobby became a full-time profession: he went to work for his father, and caught wild oysters to sell to B.L. Bell & Son.
Alongside oystering, both sides of the family had a history of entrepreneurship – and Donny embodied that trait, too. At age 25 he went out on his own, intent to continue his bloodline's long history of successful watermen. For two years he worked his first boat, a 40-foot box stern named "Bonnie Sue" with his mates. At age 27 he parted with that first boat and acquired the 42-foot "Scott Lee," which he used to crab pot and dredge. Years later he added conch potting to his repertoire, and eventually upgraded to the 44-foot "Garrett Scott."
Though times have changed – crab dredging was terminated in 2007 – Donny’s love for the water hasn’t. The third generation waterman simply belongs at sea, and it was the decades upon decades of oystering in his bloodline that helped inspire him to start Cobb Station Oyster Company with partner Ted Nowakowski in 2010.
It was the trade of his great grandfather. And his grandfather. And his father. Donny Miles never chose to become an oysterman – he was born one. And it’s that passion that forever cements his dedication to his craft – and to his customers. With over 100 years of oystering in his genes, we can ensure you that Donny Miles will deliver only the finest seafood. It’s something of a family tradition, after all…