Alaska Grown Produce is a Hot Commodity for Local Restaurants
Restaurant Rewards program encourages serving local food
ANCHORAGE - "Alaska Grown” is a logo that many of us are familiar with, and pretty soon you may see it popping up in more places. Restaurant menus could be the next to sport an Alaskan Grown logo now that a new program is making it easier for local chefs to purchase local produce, and offering rebates to those who do.
Of course, some restaurants already feature local products, including Hott Stixx in Downtown Anchorage. Owner Mike Dodge says it’s hard to beat the taste of vegetables that are literally just hours from the ground.
“The flavor is just amazing,” says Dodge. “It’s way better than anything I get shipped up, and just the fact that it’s local is really great.”
Hott Stixx has plenty of local produce on the menu already, but Dodge would like to offer even more. It’s not a shortage that’s holding him back. Farmers in the Mat-Su Valley are planting an ever-growing variety of crops every year. But there’s a catch: higher production costs, including shipping up equipment and materials to Alaska, can make the prices grow as well.
“There’s always been that reaction about Alaska Grown produce,” says Division of Agriculture’s Marketing Assistant Kristi Krueger. “They tell me, I’d love to get it in my restaurant but I can't afford to do it. Well, now you can.”
Krueger administers the Restaurant Rewards Program. Under it, restaurants can earn a rebate on what they spend to buy local produce. Qualifying restaurants can get rebates between 10 percent and 20 percent, depending on how much local produce they buy, how many farms it comes from and how well they advertise Alaska Grown on their menus. Krueger calls it a win-win situation for the local economy. The money stays in state and helps local farms stay in business.
But the program may also boost another growing business. “Delicious Dave,” as he’s known, provides an important link in the local food chain. The chef turned purveyor makes a daily drive between Anchorage and the Valley picking up produce orders for local restaurants.
“I drive out to the farms and pick it up, “ says Dave of his business Alaska Root Sellers. “I get it for the wholesale price and then sell it to them for a delivery price. This way [restaurants] can have fresh Alaska produce at their fingertips when they need it.”
His business has grown and will probably get better as more restaurants sign up for the rebate program.
Mike Dodge of Hott Stixx thinks that’s likely as well. He says in his restaurant Alaska Grown not only tastes better, it sells better as well: reason enough to include more “Alaskan Grown.”