Kasilof man sinks his teeth into new product line

'Dogged' determination

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Coming soon to a ballpark near you: dogfish dogs?

Fred West, owner of Tustumena Smokehouse, has perfected a technique for making polish sausage, bratwurst, pepperoni and breakfast sausage entirely from pink, chum (or "dog") and sockeye salmon. And judging from the reaction he's been getting from customers, the product is bound to be a hit.

"I didn't even know it was fish. I think it's just great. I was just amazed," said Kelly Johnson while buying several packs of polish sausage to bring with him on a trip Outside. Johnson said he heard about the sausage when a friend of his offered him a piece of the fish sausage earlier this year. He said he was hooked from the beginning.

"It brought me out here, didn't it?"

West has been perfecting his technique for making the sausage for about seven years now. He said he got started on the idea out of curiosity.

"The reason I got into this is I just like to experiment around," West said last week from his store in Kasilof.

He said what started out as a hobby quickly became an idea to save his business.

"Over the last four years I've been sending samples out. Now I'm getting a lot of interest. What started as an experiment has become survival, it's as simple as that," said West, noting that conventional salmon products have seen retail prices plummet in recent years.

"It's an innovative product, and it's a value-added product," he said.

Don't think that since West uses mainly pinks and chum, traditionally the least expensive salmon, his product isn't high quality. He said he only uses fish that have been properly cared for.

"It has to be good fish. The fish has to be bled and iced and kept at the highest quality or I won't buy them. It has to be a top-notch, quality fish. You can't make silk out of a sow's ear."

That quality is what West is hoping will catch on with consumers. He said he's already been contacted by at least three major chain retail stores inquiring about his product. He said they are intrigued by the potential for the growth of the sausage product.

"One buyer called and said, 'Fred, how much can you produce?' We're really excited."

West's salmon sausage currently is only available through the Tustumena Smokehouse. However, West said plans are under way to distribute his product locally.

"I'm pleased to announce that my first buyer will be Sally over at Sourdough Sal's. They're going to put it on the menu," he said.

"You can use it in anything, really. It's good in soups, stews, scrambled eggs, omelets, pizza, and you'd never know it's fish."

West also noted he could never have developed his product without the help of lots of friends, fishers and even government officials.

"I couldn't do this without the support of a lot of people. Jack Brown, Mayor (Dale) Bagley. Jerry Ward took some sausage down to Juneau with him. I've worked with the Cook Inlet salmon branding commission. Mark Powell, Paul Dale, Bob Scott, Liz Chase designed my logo. So many people have helped me out. We have to stick together," he said.

As a customer, Johnson agrees West's sausage is good for the community as a whole.

"Every time I turn on the radio or pick up the news, all I hear about is how there's no money. What I want to hear is entrepreneurial stories like this. You should be proud of yourself," he told West.

Then Johnson opened a fresh pack sausage and took a bite.

"I think it's great," he said.

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