Two Haines entrepreneurs are finalists in a regional business competition. The Path to Prosperity program offers support to small businesses and startups in Southeast Alaska. The contest is a partnership between Spruce Root Inc. and The Nature Conservancy. This year, Path to Prosperity is focused on local food.
“Right now we are prepping for our upcoming lunch hour,” Sarah Jaymot said on a recent weekday morning. “So we’re making sure all our specials are in order. We’ve got a yellow curry and a kale pesto turkey melt and we also have a blind date which is featuring arugula from Foundroot.”
Jaymot owns Sarah J’s Espresso Shoppe. She’s served up mouth-watering breakfast, lunch and coffee to hungry people in Haines for several years now. But her love for food started earlier than that.
“I think I’ve been attracted to food and coffee my whole life,” Jaymot said. “And I think the inspiration started with my grandmothers. I had a fully Italian grandmother, I was the only grandkid allowed in the kitchen because I would do her dishes. But yeah, she kind of taught me to love food and love feeding people. And that cooking is a love language.”
Jaymot turned her passion into her profession about nine years ago, when she bought a restaurant called The Local Catch. A couple years later, she opened Sarah J’s.
The business has grown and seen a lot of success. But there is one major obstacle limiting its growth: space.
“The current space is a 23-foot food trailer that has back storage in a 10-by-10 [foot] shed,” Jaymot said. “So storage is a huge issue. We are busier than our menu and our food trailer allow us to be at times, which slows down our efficiency.”
Jaymot applied for the Path to Prosperity competition because she’s ready to take the next step and build a bigger, sit-down café.
The other Haines Path to Prosperity finalist is Andrew Cardella.
“There’s mostly annual veggies in here, a big strawberry patch here, apple trees,” Cardella described the bounty of his backyard garden.
Cardella’s business is still in the idea stage.
“My idea is to enable anyone who wants to garden to be able to garden,” Cardella said. “I feel like there are a lot of people who are interested but don’t know how to get started or maybe don’t know anything about growing food at all…my idea is to get them set up.”
Cardella wants to take away the obstacles people face when trying to create their own gardens. He started gardening about five years ago with a plot at the community garden.
“I didn’t really know anything, then got this house and still didn’t know anything,” Cardella said. “Then had one failed season and learned a lot pretty quick.”
In his application to Path to Prosperity, Cardella calls the potential business Perma Food-Scaping.
If his dream does become a reality, Cardella hopes he can help Haines become less reliant on food barged in from the Lower 48.
“You know, [more local gardens will] limit how much veggies we have to ship up here and the huge, huge carbon footprint that’s used for importing these foods from down south,” Cardella said. “And then in addition to that, all the plastic that’s used, when you go to a shop and buy a bundle of spinach, and you put it in a plastic bag, and then they put that plastic bag in another plastic bag…if you had just gone out to your yard and picked the same amount of spinach, it’s going to be so much healthier, it’s going to be so much better for you, and it’s not going to use all that plastic in the process.”
Growing local food economies is one of the main reasons Path to Prosperity narrowed its focus to food-related businesses this year. In a press release, contest organizers point out that 95 percent of the food Alaskans consume is imported.
The other finalists this year include a kombucha business in Craig, a food co-op in Sitka and a farm in Juneau.
All twelve Path to Prosperity finalists will participate in a business boot camp in Juneau this fall. Then, two winners will receive up to $25,000 for consulting or technical assistance. Those prizes will be announced in February.
Haines’ Port Chilkoot Distillery and Fairweather Ski Works are both previous Path to Prosperity winners. Last year’s winners were a Juneau kelp food business and Klawock coffee roaster.