Fish processor's business booms after news article

Posted: Friday, June 07, 2002

CORDOVA (AP) -- A small Cordova fish processor has received a pleasant lesson about the power of the press.

After Eric Asimov, the New York Times guru of gastronomy, handed Prime Select Seafoods a compliment about its product, the company was swamped with a nationwide wave of orders. So swamped, in fact, the company's phone system couldn't handle the demand.

''We had to have the phone company come down and show us how to reset it,'' said Katie Boehm, who handles orders for Prime Select. ''It's the kind of high quality problem we like to have.''

Jeff Bailey, president of Prime Select, said they could track the New York Times deliveries across the country as the calls came in, first from Ohio, then Denver and finally Los Angeles.

''I don't know how many orders we've gotten because of it,'' said Sue Laird, vice president of Prime Select, as she held a fistful of orders. ''We've been too busy just getting the orders out the door to count them.''

The author of the excitement was Eric Asimov, who reviews restaurants and wines for the big, national paper. Every Wednesday, the Times posts its restaurant reviews and a little section called Temptations, where Asimov mentioned Prime Select Seafoods smoked salmon.

''Temptations is where we put things that are particularly wonderful, but don't necessarily fit the context of a larger story,'' Asimov said. ''As it is, they cut about 100 words out of it. It was real literature before my editors got hold if it.''

What appeared were five paragraphs, roughly 200 words, of unreserved praise for Prime Selects jarred, smoked sockeye salmon.

''When I open a jar, I'm compelled to make like a bear and gorge. When I've forked up the last smoky morsel, I'm ready to hibernate,'' Asimov wrote.

It was enough. Asimov also included Prime Select's phone number, e-mail, address and the cost of a three-jar gift box of sockeye salmon.

The incoming tide of orders soon swelled to tsunami proportions.

Asimov said he first encountered Prime Select's smoky delight about a year ago, when his brother-in-law in California, a regular visitor to Alaska and a longtime customer of Prime Select, offered him some. Asimov was hooked and became a regular customer.

''When I write about something, it doesn't usually have this kind of effect, but Prime Select is about as small and isolated as any business I've ever written about,'' Asimov said.

With a grand total of eight employees seasonally and three in the winter, Prime Select is what any New Yorker would describe as a mom-and-pop operation.

The company stakes its reputation on meticulous care of high-quality products.

''Our fish are all gill-bled on the grounds, refrigerated, well-handled and cared for,'' Boehm said. ''We're just lucky it happened at this time of year with plenty of fish coming in.''

It was indeed fortuitous timing. Just a week before, Boehm said, the Times had run a bigger piece on Copper River salmon.

Bailey, Laird and Boehm said they've been having a ball with all the new customers.

''We had an order from one woman who listed her address as No. 1, Central Park West, PH (penthouse),'' Bailey said. ''I was just dying to ask her who she was, how she made a living and who her neighbors were.''

One longtime customer in New York sent a bag of fine chocolates and said she was concerned when she saw the mention in the Times.

Boehm said she talked to one gentleman who runs a seasonal restaurant at the oldest racetrack in Manhattan. He was ordering for his personal use, but said he may consider it for the restaurant, Boehm said.

''It sure has been interesting, talking to all these different people. They just love calling and talking to somebody from the wilds of Alaska.''

The conversations have been profitable, too. When customers are informed of the full line of products available from Prime Select, Boehm said, they often expand their orders to include frozen fillets.

Laird was cautiously optimistic about what the sudden fame might mean to her business, after the dust settles.

''We're going to be old news next week,'' Laird said. ''But we'll still have lots of return customers and business from people they sent gifts to.''

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