Rattling along the deep ruts of the sand on the Kenai River’s south beach in a side-by-side, Jason Floyd took orders for mochas.
He wheeled the vehicle expertly among dipnets, dipnetters, coolers and tents on the beach Monday — this crowd, though still thick, was nothing compared to the crowd the weekend before, he said. A cooler full of ice rides in the back of the side-by-side beneath an Alaska flag and the signature yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag.
Floyd, the owner of Ammo Can Coffee, occasionally pulled alongside groups near their tents and asked if they need anything from ice to drip coffee to motor oil. Usually, he’ll take coffee orders, drive back to the trailer just outside the fee shack on Royal Street and bring it back within 15 minutes, though he’s found himself doing other chores too, he said.
“Basically I’ve become an expediter for all kinds of things,” Floyd said. “One guy blew out his engine. I fix tires and all that. Basically we’ve just been helping with all kinds of things.”
He wasn’t the only one down on the beach hoping to do some business Monday — a boat landed on the beach advertising 5-gallon buckets of cannery ice for $5 Monday afternoon. On the north side of the river, food trucks set up in the parking lot, awaiting customers.
The Kenai personal-use dipnet fishery sees thousands of people on a busy weekend. Many of them bring equipment with them or stop by Walmart, Fred Meyer or Safeway to pick up food and ice before they hit the beach, but others may not. More vendors are hoping to pick up some of that business by coming to the fishery.
This year is Kalani Ross’ first year working at the dipnet fishery. His food truck, Ol’boy Cuisine, is set up in the parking lot at the north beach, where he serves up dishes like honey butter cornbread, ribs, potato salad and pineapple cucumber pasta salad. Business comes and goes with the tides, but people seem to have a good response to it, he said.
“We’ll make soups and beans and people can come get it to warm up,” Ross said.
Ol’boy is a second business for Ross, who also works in oil. He said he has long had an interest in food and is planning a grand opening for the business at the Harley Davidson store in Wasilla on July 20, offering one free serving per person.
Next door, Cole Busch of Clam Gulch offers both food and ice from his food truck Chow Time. This is his second year working the food truck at the fishery, he said.
“I feel like the city does a good job managing it,” Busch said.
Operating a restaurant year-round in the Kenai area, where the population fluctuates greatly with the seasons, is a challenge, he said. Running the food truck in the summer is simpler.
The city of Kenai requires mobile food vendors to apply for an additional license, which costs $10 per month, be insured, have a fire extinguisher on board and pass an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation inspection. Beyond that, they can operate on the beach parking lot as long as they pay the fee, said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch. The number of vendors has varied over the years, but the city doesn’t keep close track of them, he said.
“They don’t have to turn in activity reports to us or anything,” Koch said. “If they were taking up more space than was reasonable, then we would say something, but they haven’t.”
Floyd said he sees a lot of potential for vendors to the dipnet fishery. His business, which now has a storefront in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna, got started in a tent at the dipnet fishery last year. There were a few issues then — blowing sand wound up in the coffee sometimes — that he and his family, who help run the business, have since worked out, he said. In the evening on Sunday, dipnetters headed back to Anchorage stopped over to pick up coffee on their way home in droves, he said.
“People are kind of flabbergasted when I offer them espresso on the beach,” Floyd said. “We do well. … Generally, people are in a good mood down here. They like that they don’t have to leave their camp unattended to get ice and all that.”
In the future, he said he’d like to see the city of Kenai promote additional activities on the beach to turn it into more of an event, such as a concert. Other cities in Alaska have signature summer events, such as Girdwood’s Forest Fest and Seward’s Fourth of July celebrations, and the dipnet could fill that niche for Kenai, he said.
“The city could really do something with this here,” he said.