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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Crest Couple Finds Pearl in Christmas Clam 

John and Lisa Rippo

By Shay Roddy

NORTH WILDWOOD – For one Wildwood Crest couple, there was a little Christmas magic in the leftovers. 
Lisa and John Rippo have a tradition every year of eating a homemade clams casino with Christmas dinner. But this year, it wasn’t just pepper, onion, pimento and bacon mixed in with the clams. 
Nothing about the dish seemed out of the ordinary when they enjoyed the clams with family Christmas night. But with the leftovers the next day, it was a different story.
“I just sucked up the clam and I felt something hard. I took it out of my mouth, and there it was,” John Rippo said in an interview.
At first, he thought he had gotten a piece of a shell. His wife wondered if he had lost a tooth. But sure enough, there was a pearl that had somehow made it into the stuffing. 
“It’s pretty unbelievable that it made its way into a clams casino,” Lisa Rippo, who prepared the dish, said. She described the process of draining and washing the clams, then drying them before mixing them in with the other ingredients and stuffing them back into their shells. Through all that, she never noticed the gem.
The Rippos get their clams each year from Rick’s Seafood, in North Wildwood. Mike Lake, a longtime employee, recently took over the business after Rick Moretti, who founded the shop in 1985, retired. 
It was Lake who shucked the clams for the Rippos, something he said he wouldn’t have ordinarily done on a busy day like Christmas Eve, if they hadn’t been longtime customers with the same annual holiday order. Lake said Christmas Eve is one of the five busiest days at Rick’s all year. 
Because he was moving so fast, Lake said he must not have noticed the pearl when he shucked the clam. You better believe, he’s going to start paying closer attention.
“I’ve got to take a better look next time I open some,” he said in an interview, laughing. 
In more than 20 years shucking clams, Lake said he has never found a pearl or heard of one turning up for one of his customers. But surprisingly, for the Rippos, this isn’t a first. 
“With my husband, on one of our first dates, we ordered clams on the half shell at a restaurant and a beautiful, smaller pearl was found, and I lost it,” Lisa Rippo said. “I always was really sad about the one that disappeared from 25 years ago. So, this one will be special.” 
Lisa Rippo was carrying the first pearl she found in her wallet, but the jewel must have slipped through a small crack in the corner, she said.
“I was sick about it… I never forgot about it. I was just thinking about it the other day,” she said, never imagining she would experience it again. “Do you know what the chances of that are?”
The Rippos said they plan to take the pearl to be appraised at Lauria, on Jewelers Row, in Philadelphia. Evangelo Pastris, the manager of the jewelry store, said he was shocked to get the phone call from the Rippos. 
“I’ve never heard of that before in my life. It’s unbelievable,” he told the Herald.
Pastris said the jewel will be evaluated to make sure it is natural, and its value can vary depending on a number of factors. He said it is impossible to offer an estimate for what it’s worth without examining the item. 
“It’s like saying, ‘how much is a diamond worth?’ A diamond could be $1,000 or $20,000. It’s impossible over the phone to say. It’s just a broad range,” he added. 
After determining its value, the Rippos said they will decide what to do with the find. But, Lisa Rippo is leaning toward making it into a necklace. 
“My husband now has to get me matching earrings,” she joked. 
And given their luck, he may be able to do that with a few more years of eating clams. 
“I’m eating them forever,” John Rippo said. 
The Rippos repeatedly credited Rick’s for always having top-notch service and product. It was important to them to recognize the fish market for its role in the crazy story, even though Rick’s is so busy they suspect it doesn’t need the promotion. 
“I don’t even think he needs the business,” she said. “I’m thinking this is going to be his biggest curse.” 
Lake said Rick’s got the topneck clams from Clam Daddy’s, a Brigantine company that farm raises Jersey clams to sell to local restaurants and takeout markets. Billy Mayer, whose father founded Clam Daddy’s in 1984, said he has only found one pearl in his career, but his dad has a collection with a few more.
Mayer said that he has heard from a few other customers who’ve found pearls over the years, but he estimates that it only happens, on average, once a year. 
“Everybody always asks us the monetary value on it,” Mayer said in an interview. “We call it ‘pretty priceless.’ It’s an anomaly….It’s just amazing that this happens. It’s always great to hear how excited people are to find them.”
So, fair to say clams casino is now cemented as John Rippo’s favorite meal? 
“You got that right!” he said laughing.
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com or call (609) 886-8600 ext. 142. 

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