JUNEAU - A young man comes to Alaska and meets a girl. They settle down, start a family and a business. They work hard. Prosperity follows.
A post-card Alaska success story? It really happens. Allan and Davida Ahlgren of Juneau are living proof.
The Ahlgrens' hard work has lead to Allan Ahlegren being named the Small Business Administration's Small Business Person of the Year.
He came to Southeast Alaska in 1972 and met Davida, born and raised in Juneau. The Ahlgrens opened their business, the Breeze In, in 1975, started their family, and things have been going uphill since.
"I had a brother who was here who told me Alaska was a good place to be and that you can do anything here if you work hard," Ahlgren said.
There are no spectacular leaps in this success story, only steady, hard work after a small start.
"We started as a convenience store in a valley location," a suburban area north of the Juneau's downtown area. "It was fashionable then to call it 'quick service retail.' We were more specialized than many convenience-type stores, but it was a natural progression to move further into food service."
The Ahlgrens were ahead of the curve when they started. The only competition then were traditional grocery stores: IGA in the valley area and Foodland in downtown Juneau. Fred Meyer, which has its version of quick food service, didn't move in until the 1980s.
There's more competition now, but the Ahlgrens are well known in the community and there has been strong customer loyalty, but that's because the family has paid relentless attention to quality and constant improvements in the products offered.
The original valley store was enlarged several times. A 1,600-square-foot outlet in Douglas, across Gastineau Channel, came next. Last March the Ahlgrens opened a new 20,000-square-foot facility in Lemon Creek that is now the company's flagship retail outlet as well as a bakery, warehouse and offices.
"We sell hundreds of sandwiches every day and thousands of doughnuts," Ahlgren said.
Breeze In now has about 100 employees in three locations. Juneau is known for its small, tight labor pool, but Ahlgren said recruiting and keeping employees hasn't been a big problem.
"Our employees have been pretty stable and turnover is low. We have a lot of part-time people, even state employees, who work with us to pick up some extra money," he said.
Ahlgren said he has recently seen an up-tick of people looking for part-time work, a possible signal of concerns for the economy.
"The only challenge in recruiting for us is when we have to open a new location, when we're suddenly in the market for 30 or 35 people," Ahlgren said.
Getting support from out-of-state vendors in Southeast Alaska hasn't been a problem. Breeze In buys a lot from organizations that specialize in supporting food service companies. "They've given us good service," he said.
For now, the Ahlgrens have no plans for major new initiatives, although they would like to expand the Douglas store at some point.
As for the future? Retirement? Ahlgren hasn't thought about it much, he said. He's too busy.
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