Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Knowing the process — Soldotna man puts history of guiding, meat processing to use in new business

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Avery Hansen has the best problem any new business owner can have — he’s been too busy since opening AK Custom Meats on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna.

AK — which refers to Alaska, but also stands for the owners, Avery and Kimberly Hansen — opened about three months ago. The store missed summer tourism season, but fall hunting has brought in enough business to keep Avery’s days, and refrigerators, plenty full.

Moose, caribou, bear and hog processing, “we’ve been doing quite a bit of that,” said Roland Hansen, Avery’s father. Roland is up from Washington state minding the new store while Avery is on a deer-hunting trip in Wisconsin.

Avery is more than confident to leave the store in his dad’s hands, since that’s where he learned meat processing in the first place.

“I have three boys, they all grew up butchering and smoking meat,” Hansen said.
Hansen and his family opened a custom meat-processing store in Washington in 1981. They opened a grocery store in Warden, Wash., in 1983, which they still operate, and sold the custom meat store in ’85.

Avery used his early meat processing education to some degree being a guide, but he eventually wanted to focus more on processing meat, rather than producing it.

“Avery had been a guide for eight years. He wanted to do something other than be a guide, so we’ve been thinking about this for quite a while,” Hansen said.

Hansen’s grocery store in Washington plays a large role in Avery’s new business in Soldotna. Hansen accumulated a lot of the equipment in Washington for the new store, and now supplies the store with the premium meat it sells as retail and uses in making sausage and other products.

Pork comes from the Midwest, and everything else comes from Washington and Oregon, shipped up fresh through the wholesaler Hansen uses for his grocery store.

Hansen said AK Custom Meats uses only lean pork shoulder meat, and carries all-natural, USDA-choice beef from Painted Hills Natural Beef Inc. The meat has no added hormones or antibiotics, is 100-percent vegetarian fed and source verified.

With hunting season in full swing, that’s been the store’s main focus so far.

“We’re starting slow. There’s just one guy in the shop (Avery). We don’t have a lot of employees. It keeps you pretty busy when there’s just one guy doing everything,” Hansen said.

They plan to expand their retail offerings soon, however. Currently they make a few varieties of sausage, all with lean meat, not fat, so the result isn’t greasy.

“There’s no fillers. It’s nothing less than 80 percent lean beef and the pork is all lean pork shoulder meat. When you eat the sausage, that’s the difference you’ll feel — it’s just a leaner, 100-percent meat product,” Hansen said.

A sausage kitchen, curing facility and smokehouse on the premises allows the Hansens to make their own sausage and pepperoni sticks, cure bacon and smoke prime rib and baby-back ribs. They also plan to have steaks dry-aged for 20 to 24 days. For fall they offer hickory-smoked turkeys and jalapeño cheese dip, and for the Christmas season they plan to have sausage and cheese gift packs.

There’s still some open space in the store, so they may add new products or services in the future, like FedEx shipping or fish boxes in the summer. Fish processing isn’t on their list of things to specialize in, though.

“We don’t want to compete with some of the other businesses in town,” Hansen said.
Instead they’re sticking to the tried-and-true recipes they’ve been using for decades and a reliance on customer service.

“Basically we just want to provide a premium product and want to be able to do what the customer wants,” Hansen said. “We would love to take orders from them and have it cut and prepared the way they like it.”

Chuck Marquaret, of Soldotna, said the store already prepares things the way he likes it. He came in out of curiosity when he saw the store’s sign on the highway. On his first trip he bought some cheddarwurst and German sausage — both excellent, he said.

“I just fed it to my kids, they said, ‘That’s good!’” he said.

That’s the reaction the Hansens desire.

“You should always do what you know how to do,” Hansen said. “(Avery) just knows what he’s doing and feels confident doing it, and puts out a good product.”

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