Stranded by Alaska’s ferry strike, a Juneau pretzel baker is turning a profit in Haines

Chris Peterson rolls out some pretzel dough for pretzel dogs.
Chris Peterson rolls out some pretzel dough for pretzel dogs. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KHNS)

The ferry worker’s strike began just a day before the Southeast Alaska State Fair. That stranded some fair-goers and vendors with cars and food trucks.

For one soft pretzel vendor from Juneau, the ferry strike was profitable twist of fate.

By 1:15 p.m. on a weekday in Haines, Chris Peterson of Peterson’s Pretzels had already sold out for the third time.

Peterson said he had sold as many pretzels as he would sell on a busy Juneau Saturday.

“We are just ecstatic at the response,” he said.

He frantically rolled out spongy pretzel dough and wrapped it around beef franks for pretzel dogs. There had been a line down the block all day.

“I’ve never done this by myself before,” he said with a laugh. “Usually this is a three-person show.”

Peterson is parked next to Miles Furniture on Main Street, and he’ll be in town until mid-August. The original plan was to return to Juneau after the Southeast Alaska State Fair, but with no ferries running, he and his truck are stuck in Haines.

His family went back to Juneau to prepare for his daughter’s wedding this weekend.

So in between rapid passes with a rolling pin, he gulped an energy drink, checked on dough proofing in his oven and shouted time estimates to the hungry folks who were clustering outside his food truck.

“So I’ll make about 16 pretzel dogs this time,” he said. “Actually, I should probably make 24. What do you think?”

He opted for 24.

Peterson got an extension on his temporary business license from the Haines Borough due to extenuating circumstances. And the Bradford family who owns Miles Furniture hooked him up on their lot. Peterson said he’s grateful for the support. Since business is going so well, he’s considering opening up another pretzel truck here.

But for other local businesses, the disruption in ferry service isn’t helping the bottom line.

“It’s very, very disruptive, to say the least,” said Robert Venables, the executive director of the Southeast Conference, an economic development group for the region. “And very costly. Some of those funds will stay in the local economy, but distributed differently. It’s definitely having an effect on people’s plans.”

“Distributed differently” is right. What seemed like bad luck⁠ — a strike on the weekend of the fair⁠ — happened to be good luck for Peterson. Alaska Seaplanes felt a benefit, too: They ran nearly 30 flights between Juneau and Haines on Sunday alone, and they continue to offer about double their usual number of flights on many routes.

But the Southeast Alaska State Fair is estimating a 10% decrease in tickets, not to mention the added cost of flying in musicians. They also offered refunds to those who couldn’t make it due to the strike — though only a handful of people have cashed in on the offer. Venables is especially concerned that the ferry system’s lost revenue during the strike may translate to lost service over winter.

But on Main Street, Peterson is still selling out of soft pretzels.

“It’s fun!” Peterson laughed as he boiled water for the next batch of pretzel dogs.

He will be in Juneau this weekend for his daughter’s wedding. But he’s flying back to Haines on Sunday night, so he can open up again on Monday morning.

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