' Husband-Wife Team at Barrier Islands Salt Co. Puts Love into Every Flake - Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek



Husband-Wife Team at Barrier Islands Salt Co. Puts Love into Every Flake

Anna and David Lee easily fell in love with the laid-back lifestyle on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.


Family visits brought Anna there frequently as a child, and she and her husband, Dave, continued to visit from Northern Virginia later in life. When moving closer to Anna’s parents in Virginia Beach became a priority, they searched for a new home in Hampton Roads but “everything we looked at wasn’t the Eastern Shore,” Anna says.


They found the perfect spot — Cape Charles.


“We love the people. We love the nature,” Anna says. “It’s a very specific lifestyle that you can’t find as much as you used to. Because the Eastern Shore has been cut off to a great degree from the outside world, there’s a sense of community and pride. It’s hard to articulate it. It’s a very charitable mindset, a kind mindset, an open-minded and inclusive mindset. Once you’re here, people look out for you.”


Photo Credit: Barrier Islands Salt Co.


That way of life appealed to the Lees so much that, for a while, Anna weathered the undesirable commute to a job in Toano that often stretched as long as two hours each way.


Finding a sustainable career in their new home for both of them — Dave is a veteran of the Coast Guard and Anna worked in corporate branding and marketing — led them to start Barrier Islands Salt Co., out of their backyard. Their product line includes Pure Flake Sea Salt, Pure Kosher Sea Salt, Herbs de Seaside Salt and Infused Rosé Salt, made with the help of Jon and Mills Wehner, neighbors at Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek.


Local wine and local salt pair together nicely.


“They were the first people we collaborated with when we started this business,” Anna says.


Dave initially brought up the idea of making sea salt and while Anna had previous experience launching a national brand’s Mediterranean salt line, she reminded her husband, “We don’t know anything about making our own salt.”


So, Dave schooled himself in the craft, starting with YouTube videos and graduating to make hundreds of test batches over a few years. Anna remembers the day he came in from the backyard with a sample of what’s become their Pure Flake Sea Salt.


“Can you do that again?” Anna asked. “That’s how we began.”


Today the Lees are Virginia’s only salt makers, continuing a rich legacy that dates back to the 1600s. As far back as 1633, salt was a major industry on the Eastern Shore that attracted European entrepreneurs. The first colonial salt-making operation in the Commonwealth dates back to 1614 on Smith’s Island at the southern tip of the Shore.


Dave and Anna follow a similar process as those who came before them. Centuries later, the Barrier Islands remain a perfect source, the pure clear sea water rich in trace minerals, with little to no measurable toxins and pollutants.


Photo Credit: Barrier Islands Salt Co.


The Lees sold their first jars of sea salt at a VIP event the Barrier Islands Center hosted in September 2018. Five years later, the business has expanded in multiple ways. Find Barrier Islands Salt in retail outlets, at the steakhouse inside the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Washington, D.C., and at Chatham Vineyards, which partnered with them for the Infused Rosé Salt. Barrier Islands Salt products are also sold online.


Despite the growth, Barrier Islands Salt Co., is about as Mom and Pop as you can get. The Lees are the only two hands behind the labor-intensive method they have perfected. It starts by them launching their 23-foot Carolina Skiff into 60 feet of water off Hog Island. They return with sea water in food-safe drums to begin the filtering process. From there, they boil the filtered water until it reaches a certain level of salinity and then transfer it into a shallow pan on low heat. Salt flakes begin to form and get heavy, falling to the bottom of the pan. The Lees scoop the salt out of the brine and dry it in trays on a baker’s rack. Every 12 hours for a few days, they stir it around to ensure it dries evenly.


The salt is hand inspected before being jarred. If they are making a flavored salt, that requires more steps. For the Infused Rosé Salt, for example, Anna reduces Chatham’s Rosé. For the Herbs de Seaside Salt, Anna relies on fresh herbs from Seafield Farm in Cape Charles.


Their signature item is a finishing salt that makes anything and everything taste better. Anna enjoys it most atop fresh eggs. Their smaller grain kosher salt is ideal for baking. The herb salt is delicious on steak and pasta. Anna suggests the infused Rosé Salt on grilled seafood, roasted vegetables or atop desserts.


“When you open the jar, the fragrance is very pronounced, and it’s a beautiful pink color,” she says. “I’ve made dark chocolate bark and had cranberries and pecans and topped it with Rosé salt. It’s just beautiful.”


After their first year in business, the Lees operated out of a historic Texaco station they restored in Cheriton. Today they’re at a seaside waterfront located 20 minutes north of Cape Charles in the tiny harbor town of Red Bank.


As Dave and Anna still handle every aspect of making every flake of salt, keeping up with customer demand is challenging. That said, neither would trade a lifestyle they’re passionate about. Anna adds, “I love the idea of human hands making beautiful products.”

Post By:   Amanda Shortt
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