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Deli hopes to start 'slow-food movement'

Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2002

Coming soon for the discerning home chef and the discriminating fast-paced taste buds: organic gourmet foods and ingredients.

Soldotna business owner Peggy Mullen, known for her River City Books, will open her newest venture, Gourmet Garden Market and Deli next Wednesday, promising gourmet delicatessen-styled meals and pastries made with organic ingredients.

"I think there's a niche for this," Mullen said. "Offering good, flavorful, healthy food for busy people. We want to start the slow-food movement."

She said her deli will cater to folks on the go who don't want to sacrifice quality and health value for convenience. That means Gourmet Garden's lunch- and dinner-sized offerings will feature high end, specialty meals prepared using ingredients grown without pesticides or herbicides.

"For dinner, we're concerned with lots of parents who are working and want more than fried chicken and pizza," she said. "And we'll have something for those who want to experiment with world foods."

Gourmet Garden will sell organic seasonings, spices and other ingredients that Mullen said people can use to prepare their own cuisine. The level of service and food will dictate the price, but Mullen said she expects people to be agreeable with the cost-to-quality ratio and see it as a value.

"Because of the ingredients, it's going to be medium- to high-end," she said. "But, because of the ingredients, the difference (in taste) will be noticeable. So it will be worth it. I don't try to rip people off."

And she plans to stock her shelves as much as possible with products grown or produced in Alaska, shopping from nearby produce farmers to as far off as the Matanuska-Susitna area. The store will also sell organic breads from Europa Bakery in Anchorage and from Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, that will be delivered at least two times a week.

"We're going to buy locally what we can," she said. "I mean pretty close (to Soldotna) in the summer. And we'll buy from Arctic Organic in Palmer."

Mullen's 225 square foot store is located in the same Soldotna "Y" building as her book store, just around the corner. No stranger to start-up businesses, she said she has her own level of anxiety about the opening.

"I'll be torn between businesses," Mullen said. "That will probably happen for the first month. Then we'll be settled. I'm not worried about the book store. It's old enough to take care of itself."

She said this will be the fourth business she's started in the area, counting River City Books and North Country Fair (now under new ownership). Mullen said this venture, however, will put her as far out on a limb as she's gone.

"The book store was a gamble, but we're doing fine," she said. "This is probably the riskiest. This is a hunch. A test. I'm borrowing money to see if it'll work or not. You play it by ear."

But Mullen said she is optimistic about how business will fair for the new food store. She said she has set her sights on a time when she can call the gourmet shop a bust or a boom, and she'll be working tirelessly for the best outcome.

"Anytime you step out and do something different, you just work your fanny off and hope for the best," she said. "I usually give it a year, but I'm hoping that there are days when there are lines out the door. That means we're doing well."



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