KENAI — For nearly seven years, 2 Sister’s Alaska Seafood operated out of a tiny grey building on Bridge Access in Kenai.
The business, which is driven primarily by internet sales of local and Alaska seafood, finally outgrew its old home and has found a new one in a former liquor and convenience store on Kenai Spur Highway.
“We had no heat, no running water, no insulation, no bathroom,” said co-owner Roylene Stout, with a laugh. When she and founder Annette King needed to use the bathroom “The gas station was just down the road,” she said.
Still, between the two locations, few things have changed operationally.
“We do basically the same thing except that we’ve got a retail area here that we didn’t’ have over there,” King said.
They also work in a much larger space.
“We love it here,” Roylene said. “It’s a good location, the neighborhood is for us being here. They’re all stopping here to see us, before we even moved in they were stopping by.”
Foot traffic has increased as well.
“It’s much higher visibility to everybody than when we were over (on Bridge Access),” King said. “We didn’t get very many people stopping by over there.”
The new location opened in October and Stout said she expected a “very busy” summer tourist season.
The retail space in the front of their store is filled with local and Alaska items, in keeping with their “buy locally” practice. It is not always easy to stick to that practice when local fisheries are restricted, King said.
“We get it from local commercial fishermen, we get some out of Homer, Whittier, Valdez. We try to buy from our local fishermen when we can and there are a lot of fishermen around here,” she said. “What happens up here is a lot of the big commercial fleets that go out, not the local ones, the big guys get the local fish, they bring it in, they H and G it (head and gut it) and then they freeze it and ship it to Washington. Then we have to buy fish that was caught here and then we have to pay to have it sent back up here.”
When the local fisheries are booming, it’s easier to catch the fish before they’re sent out of state.
“We try not to do it, we try to get it before it leaves, but this year it was harder to do,” she said.
Handmade log picture frames, candle holders and a lamp decorate a large portion of the retail space, courtesy of Stout’s husband.
“Those are out of burnt logs, she said. “They’ve all been through a fire up by Delta Junction.”
The two are also looking for local jewelry makers and potters to fill their collection.
“We just try to keep ... everything local,” Stout said. “We’ve got things from Fairbanks, Juneau. I’m a longtime Alaskan, I like to show off our stuff.”
Stout also said the business does not sell any products that have preservatives.
“No nitrates, none of that stuff,” King said. “We don’t believe they’re healthy.”
King said the two like to sell products that are just like the fish they have at home.
“We’re firm believers in natural foods,” King said.
While the two are still getting settled into their new space, business is still good.
The two women can recall easily several customers who call and know them by name.
“We’ve got one lady in Arizona that calls about once a month,” King said. “She absolutely will not put an order in on the internet, but she calls and recognizes our voices, I recognize her voice when she calls. I know what she wants. She orders halibut.”
Another in Nevada always orders eight pounds of king salmon.
Word about the 2 Sisters product has even gotten a salad named after them.
“A lady in Virginia who owns a place called the Twisted Branch Teahouse, she’s got a smoked salmon sandwich on her menu and she just recently put a smoked salmon salad that she calls 2 Sister’s salad,” King said. “She orders about every five to six weeks. We’ve got one size box and she says just fill that box. That’s what we do and she’s been a customer for four years now.”
Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com