The Kenai Peninsula Tourism & Marketing Council (KPTMC) hosted a record breaking sold out event at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex February 13th. With three other major events happening the same evening including a large turnout for Forever Dance Alaska’s presentation of “The Traveler” at the Renee C. Henderson auditorium and the Roaring 20’s retro fund raiser at the Kenai Senior Center the Taste of the Kenai at its new location exceeded all expectations according to Shannon Davis, KPTMC executive director. “We had a record number of vendors and a record number attendees and a record number of square feet as moved over the ice in the arena of the Regional Sports Complex,” she said. Over 320 ticket holders visited 22 vendors and cast their ballots for their favorite entrée, desert and drink. The taste preferences of the people showed consistency this year as both the best entrée and dessert were repeat winners this year. Going home with the People’s Choice for best Entrée plaque to proudly display at their restaurants were The Firehouse Barbeque and One Crazy Cupcake.
“It’s just about comfort food, good old fashioned home cooked food and winning this award two years in a row so validates what we do ” said owner Terry Johnston in an interview with the Dispatch after he and his wife Michell happily received the award for the Firehouse team. The Firehouse BBQ is located at K-Beach Rd. and Poppy Lane across from Big Johns and is open year round, “All of meat is smoked over mesquite wood that we have shipped up from Texas to get that authentic southern style flavor six days a week we are working from 5:00am to eight o’clock at night to keep our customers who we call our carnivores happy, we’re about keeping the locals happy and well fed for a reasonable price,” said Terri.
Sierra Lehl of “One Crazy Cupcake” who just opened a store front last July after starting her business at home was excited to win for the second straight year, “I’m thrilled, it validates everything I do. Winning last year increased my business which let me open a full sit down café in Kenai next to Wells Fargo where we feature a full case of cupcakes every day. We also host birthday parties or will pre-order whatever you need for party at home,” said Lehl.
Becoming a People’s Choice winner for the best drink this year for the first time was Bill and Dorothy from Bear Creek Winery in Homer. “We’re really happy! We’ve been participating in this event since it started and to take home our first win is very gratifying,” said Fry. Bill says he got the idea to start a winery in Homer from a friend in Kachemak Bay, “They were having a pot luck with smoked turkey and rhubarb wine and I really liked it so I bought the book ‘Alaska Back Yard Wines’ so I started making wines in my garage and people were loving it so we went commercial and have been doing great ever since,” he said. Bear Creek Winery bought 35,000 lbs. of local blueberries, raspberries and rhubarb according to Fry, “We make those into country wines and then we buy grape juice to ferment and blend them together as well as standalone vintages, it’s been a learn as we go experience and we appreciate all the people’s support of our venture,” said Fry. Bear Creek Winery wines are available at most local outlets or you can visit their tasting room in Homer.
Davis sees the coming tourist season as one that will break all records, “We certainly meet our capacity on the Peninsula in July,” she said, “but we have a lot of capacity that we can fill in our shoulder seasons KPTMC’s job is to market and bring people here but we are very aware that we don’t need more visitors in the peak season so we really concentrate on the spring, fall and even the winter seasons,” said Davis.