Rocky Laster put the finishing touches on a pizza before sliding it into the Kasilof Mercantile's new pizza oven. The new owners are in the process of making several changes to this local store.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
It’s been almost a month since the Laster family became the new owners of the Kasilof Mercantile, and although they are still working out the usual growing pains of taking over a business, they say they are loving every minute of the experience.
“It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done before, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Mari Laster, who along with her husband, Bob, is the new owner of what in Kasilof is informally known as “the Merc.”
“We’re still getting used to it, but everyone has been great. Folks in Alaska are patient and understanding,” she said.
Laster, formerly a program director of an adult literacy center, her husband, who was a farmer and contractor, and their daughter, Sarah, came to Alaska from Tifton, Ga.
As to what brought them all this way, the Laster’s answer was the same as many who now call the 49th state their home.
“We wanted an adventure. That’s a big part of it,” Mari said.
“We were stuck in a rut and knew we weren’t getting any younger. Our dream has always been to run a family-owned business, so we decided to try and fulfill that dream,” she said.
Mari said they chose Kasilof for this endeavor because it was near family.
“Our son and daughter-in-law, Rocky and Destiny (Laster), live here and we wanted to be close to them, too,” she said.
Like Sarah, Rocky and Destiny help run the business. Sarah and Destiny have been hard at acquiring the skills necessary to operate the computers to enter inventory and the cash registers to ring up sales, to name just a few tasks.
“It’s been a real learning experience,” Sarah said.
Rocky, along with his mother, has taken over many responsibilities in the cafe, which is open seven days a week.
While the Merc has always served food, the Lasters are trying to expand the food service to bring some of what Georgia is best known for: hospitality and home-style cooking.
“Mom does breakfast and lunch of burgers and deli sandwiches, stuff like that,” Rocky said.
“We’re also hoping in the future to do a meal a night, serving things like meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes one night, chili and a potato the next night and lasagna the next,” Rocky said.
While Mari is making traditional meals, Rocky said he stays busy by preparing an Italian favorite that have become a staple of many American eateries.
“I do hand-tossed pizzas with fresh ingredients in the new pizza oven we put in,” Rocky said.
Rocky said the pizzas are already a popular order. The reason may be that until now people living in what he described as “the Kasilof-Clam Gulch metropolitan area” had to either drive to town for fresh pizza or settle for frozen.
“Right now the pizzas are just eat in or ordered for takeout, but delivery may be a possibility in the future,” he added.
The addition of the pizza oven is one of many changes under way at the Merc. Some changes are to the structure and design of the building, such as adding doors and windows, painting wildlife and Native art murals on the inside walls, hanging more hunting mounts inside and siding the outside of the building in log. Bob Laster is doing much of the construction work.
Other changes include the addition of new products and expanding on the volume of currently sold products.
“The fishing inventory will be expanded,” Rocky said, explaining walls have been knocked out to make room for the fishing supplies section that will be double to triple the size of the former section.
“The feed store will be replaced by a gift shop where we’ll sell souvenirs, like shirts and other items with the (Kasilof Mercantile) caribou logo,” Rocky said.
“We also just added Blue Rhino propane tank exchange, which anyone that has ever waited for a tank to be filled on a cold winter day will appreciate,” Rocky said.
While many new changes are under way, many products and services are still the same, according to the Lasters, such as numerous grocery items for sale and DVD rentals. And those who don’t have access to wells are still provided with free water.
For more information on the Merc, call 262-4809.
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