Thursday, September 25, 2008

‘Mastre’ of the grill — Colorado family hopes hot business catches on after move to Soldotna

By Naomi Hagelund
For the Redoubt Reporter

There’s a new pig in town, but it’s not just the average bacon-bearing swine. The pink, pig-shaped grill has been grabbing attention for Glacier Distributing, a heater and grill vendor that recently opened in the new strip mall across from Alaska’s Auto Country in Soldotna.

Jeff Mastre, owner of the business, and his two sons, ages 14 and 17, arrived in June with a plan to sell Traeger wood pellet grills, including standard black barbecues and infrared zone heaters.

The Mastre family was lured to Alaska from Colorado with the idea of fishing and relaxing.

“We’ve been looking at Alaska for the last few years,” Mastre said. “We kind of dried out in Colorado and we were looking for something like the Northwest had to offer again, minus the population, so that kind of pointed north.”

Alaska has everything the family was looking for, Mastre said.

“We love the fishing and the outdoors, and everything Alaska has to offer,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Mastre said he spent most of the summer setting up the business, so his sons hit the river as often as they could until the store was ready for them to help out with customers.

Mastre operated a flooring business in Colorado for 13 years and decided it was time for a change and looked for something a little easier on his body.

“I still had my knees and my back,” Mastre said. “I told myself I’ll be starting a new business one way or the other, so why not do the switch — one that you can do standing on your feet.”

The $1,599 pig-shaped grill is as functional as it is fashionable, and has been operating as an effective marketing tool for the family owned business.

“The public response to the pig out there has been great,” Mastre said. “It’s an attention-getter. It’s cheap advertising. I bought this one as a trial just to see what the response would be and it’s been great.”

Mastre said the pig-shaped grill is just as viable as the regular black grills in his shop, and due to public interest, he’s ordering in six more in the next few weeks.

The Traeger wood pellet grills are electric and work with wood pellets that come in a variety of flavors, such as maple, cherry and mesquite. The pellets are fed into a hopper then into the firepot, which provides the cooking heat and smoke that cooks and flavors the food. There is a heat deflector built into the grill so the flame never directly touches the food, which Mastre said can be a healthier way of cooking because charcoal doesn’t get on the food like it does with a regular barbecue grill.

Mastre said his family uses their own grill at least once a day, often using it to grill and smoke salmon he and his boys catch on the river.

The grills can also be used for baking bread, and garlic- and onion-flavored pellets are for sale to use for flavoring the bread. There are smaller models to take aboard boats or in small cabins, and a nonelectric table-top version can be used for the beach or camping.

On the heating end of the business, Glacier Distributing offers Sunheat portable infrared zone heaters that heat like the sun, and can save a heating bill about 50 percent, according to Mastre. The heaters are designed to heat up to 1,000 square feet from floor to ceiling.

“They piggyback on your existing heat system and carry your existing heat further,” Mastre said. “You can turn your thermostat down four or five degrees and it will pick up that degree drop. They’re good and efficient.”

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