Entrepreneurs bid business farewell

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001

Have no fear, the jalapeno cheese isn't going anywhere.

Echo Lake Lockers and Gourmet Meats may be under new ownership, but customers don't need to worry, changes do not include eliminating the famous cheese from the store's array of products.

Former owner Bob Biastoch is handing over his recipe along with the store. He created the popular cheese in the late '70s, when he and his wife bought the store from the original owners, the Halls.

Biastoch and his wife, Pat, came to Alaska for the first time on a two-week vacation in 1973. They were smitten, went home, sold their house and moved to Anchorage, where Bob got a job with Alaska Sausage.

Although they were living in Anchorage, the couple made treks to the Kenai Peninsula to fish every weekend, Pat said. Finally, after three years, they bought Echo Lake Lockers and moved south.

"It looked attractive," Pat said. "We wanted to get out of Anchorage."

For 25 years, the couple owned and operated the combination meat packing and retail store. Over the years, they have made additions and deletions.

When the Biastoches first started, Echo Lake Lockers was only in one location -- on Echo Lake Road outside of Soldotna -- and it had both a retail store and wild game processing and smoking capabilities.

They eventually expanded to a retail location called Echo Lake Gourmet Meats on Kalifornsky Beach Road but kept the meat processing and smoking on Echo Lake Road. For five years the Biastoches also owned a store called Echo Lake Superior Meats in Soldotna. However, three locations proved too stressful for the family operation.

"It was absolutely nerve wracking, way too much work," Pat said.

The two remaining stores were enough to keep them busy as well as provide an opportunity to meet new people and chat with old customers.

In 25 years, Pat said, they had many repeat customers from the peninsula and out of state. One man from Missouri brought her tomatoes every time he came, and others from Washington state brought cherries.

She said dealing with people on a one-on-one basis and getting ready for the holiday season full of smoked turkey and meat trays are what she will miss the most.

"We made a lot of good friends," Pat said. "My husband says I go to town and must talk to everybody."

She also hopes that they have provided the peninsula with good service and "our famous jalapeno cheese."

"It is going to be strange not going to work, but we wanted to enjoy this summer."

They have only had three vacations since purchasing the store, and it is time for a break. All four of the Biastoch children were raised at the home on Echo Lake Road, and they grew up working in the stores.

"They grew up right here and knew how much hard work it was," Pat said.

However, it was with mixed emotions that they turned ownership over to Jim and Sharon Clark of Anchorage.

"We are out from under the stress, but now I don't get to see all of the people," Pat said. "I guess I'll just have to go to the post office more often."

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