Peace on earth and pizza too

Home-grown Unalakleet restaurant delivers to the bush

Posted: Monday, May 08, 2000

UNALAKLEET -- Peace on Earth can be found in a small, rough-hewn plywood building about 100 yards from the chilly waters of Norton Sound.

That's where Bret Hanson and Jim Hayes cook up pepperoni pizzas, nachos, Philly cheese steaks and Greek salads for a hungry village about 150 miles southeast of Nome.

They opened their pizzeria the day after Christmas in 1996 and named it Peace on Earth because they liked the idea of ``a nice, happy place to be,'' Hanson said.

``Plus, I liked answering the phone that way,'' he said. ``When we first opened I would answer the phone and say `Peace on Earth' and everybody said `and good will towards men.'''

Besides spreading a quirky good cheer, Peace on Earth provides fast food made with fresh ingredients at a reasonable price. It's something of a rarity in Bush Alaska, where long distances can make it difficult to keep produce fresh and prices low.

Unalakleet, with fewer than 1,000 people, is a jumble of buildings amid an expanse of gentle rolling hills, muskeg and tundra. Snow and subzero temperatures tend to keep people indoors for much of the year, making Peace on Earth's free delivery a big hit.

``Sometimes when the weather's blowing and bad and nobody wants to go to the store, half the people in town will call us,'' said Hanson. ``I can guarantee the pizza will be hot, almost molten.''

Peace on Earth was started partly on a whim and partly out of necessity. Both Hanson and Hayes needed work.

``I thought `it sure would be nice to have a pizza place,''' Hanson said.

Peace on Earth is not the only restaurant in town. Brown's Unalakleet Lodge has been serving up breakfast, burgers and steaks for years. But Hanson and Hayes felt there was a niche for pizza, sandwiches and salad.

Peace on Earth's reputation has grown beyond Unalakleet. Residents of surrounding villages from Shaktoolik to St. Michael and beyond order pizza for delivery by plane. For an additional $10, an order of three pizzas can be put on a regularly scheduled flight.

``People just send us a check in the mail or they give the pilot the money if he's coming back this way,'' Hanson said. ``We've never been stiffed.''

Like any small business, Peace on Earth's success depends on careful planning. To keep costs down, Hanson and Hayes order their supplies every two weeks and have them delivered via the postal service. If they have at least 1,000 pounds of supplies shipped in, they can get a reduced mail rate of 19 or 20 cents a pound - a deep discount from normal freight rates which can run as high as 80 cents a pound.

``You have to plan your order - pop, flour, canned goods, cheese, meat and toppings. Produce doesn't weigh much. I use things up at a certain rate so I can have fresh produce every two weeks,'' Hanson said.

Unalakleet has only 805 residents, but Hanson and Hayes don't mind.

``We're cooking for our friends. We know everybody. We know who likes onions and who doesn't,'' Hanson said.

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