Visitors leaving the Kenai city dock with a cooler of freshly-caught salmon may be met in the parking lot by 12 year-old entrepreneur Roland Joseph Cherrier, who will give them his pitch for shaved ice.
“It will last 48 hours, and won’t bruise your fish,” said Cherrier, who is spending dipnet season in Kenai selling shaved ice and space at his cleaning tables in the adjacent lot of the Copper River Seafoods cannery.
“It’s a fun business to run,” Cherrier said. “It’s fun to talk to the fishermen, and hear about how many fish they’ve caught. I enjoy watching them clean their fish, and just being out there.”
Roland’s mother Chidem Cherrier said that last summer he sold $9,000 worth of ice in eight days.
“Last year was a little trial,” Chidem Cherrier said. “This year he’s doing it for the full season, from July 10 to July 30.”
“Some days you can have really bad days, which are like $200 days, and some days you can have $1,000 days, which are the best,” Roland Cherrier said. “I usually only get those when it’s sunny.”
Although Roland and Chidem Cherrier — who describes herself as Roland’s book-keeper — spend part of the year in Seattle, where Roland goes to school, they live for the summer in the “crow’s nest,” an apartment in the large yellow building that now serves as the Copper River Seafoods processing facility. Their room, with windows overlooking the busy mouth of the Kenai River, was originally the building’s head office when it served as the Port of Kenai. It still contains the desk of the port’s old owner — Roland Cherrier’s paternal grandfather and namesake, the first Roland Joseph Cherrier.
The first Roland Cherrier got his start in property development after buying and managing Anchorage’s Inland Towers Hotel following the 1964 earthquake. With his earnings from the hotel he went on to buy Anchorage’s Post Office Mall, an oil terminal in Bristol Bay, and the port of Kenai.
“He was a builder, a self-made man who got his start working early,” Chidem Cherrier said of her son’s grandfather.
Chidem Cherrrier said that her husband Jay Cherrier — the first Roland’s son and the present Roland’s father — began working for the family enterprise as a fork-lift driver at the Port. Jay Cherrier eventually took over his father’s properties, managing the Kenai Port facility as a cannery which gradually become inactive. Three years ago he died from an unexpected heart attack at the age of 59.
Although the historic Port of Kenai building has now been in the Cherrier family for three generations, Chidem Cherrier said it fell into disuse and sat empty until just before Jay Cherrier’s death, when he leased it to Copper River seafoods. Now both the building and the family are continuing their business.
This summer, in addition to selling ice and renting fish-cleaning tables, Roland Cherrier converted the Port’s unused lot space into RJC RV Park, named with the initials he shares with his paternal grandfather. Roland Cherrier’s business is in a prime location — directly adjacent to the Kenai municipal dock, which in the summer is heavily trafficked by boating dipnetters. He said the RV park has 45 lots, 15 with a waterfront view.
“People who come are really nice,” Roland Cherrier said of his RV park guests.
This summer Roland is staying busy with the ice selling and cleaning tables, assisted by his maternal grandparents, who are visiting Alaska for the first time from Chidem Cherrier’s native Turkey.
Among the expansion plans speculated on between Roland Cherrier and his mother are a river bank boardwalk from the edge of the city docks to the RV park, a riverside fish and chips restaurant, and an aquarium in an unused dock building. Another improvement that may come to the property in the more distant future is a boat launch ramp.
“It would be really convenient, because you have to pay like $35 to do it coming out of the city dock,” Roland Cherrier said (the launch fee at the Kenai municipal dock is $35, including parking, during dipnet season). “So I could do for like $20 … hopefully I can eventually open that up.”
“We’ve got a big competition starting up over here,” Chidem Cherrier said, laughing. “If he grows up and wants to do that, he’ll have to pay an engineer. It’s just the idea of a 12-year-old right now.”
“It could happen,” Roland Cherrier said.
When asked if his Port of Kenai businesses could become a lifelong project for him, Roland Cherrier said he was uncertain.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “But I think I’m definitely going to study business when I get older.”