New inter-island ferry restaurant shuts down

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2002

PETERSBURG (AP) -- Travelers on Southeast Alaska's new ferry run between Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island had raved about the gourmet meals offered on board.

But the Inter-Island Ferry Authority has run into a snag. The restaurant has pulled out just nine months into a five-year contract, saying there wasn't enough business to justify the venture.

The menu provided by Barry Shaw and his crew featured fresh bread baked and a large menu of gourmet food including several kinds of seafood such as trout and halibut, fresh vegetables and homemade pies.

But Shaw said operating the restaurant did not work.

''There wasn't enough people traveling on the ferry to justify having that type of a service. To be quite honest, it was a disaster for us,'' Shaw told CoastAlaska Radio Network.

Part of the problem was the inability to employ people part-time. ''Once the ferry leaves, that's it, you have to keep a full crew on for eight to 16 hours a day and sometimes there were only 20 people on the ferry,'' said Shaw.

Initially Shaw employed eight people but eventually scaled back to a staff of four. He said about 90 percent of the riders ate in the restaurant but the volume ended up being about a third of what was initially expected.

Shaw and the ferry authority entered legal mediation in order to end the contract.

Ferry authority Chairman Dewey Duvall said it's unfortunate that contract didn't work out.

The system is running in a deficit but ridership has picked up and it appears that the revenue will pay for operations, according to Duvall.

''That ferry is paying for itself,'' he said.

The debt service totals 3 million dollars. Duvall expects the IFA to meet its payment obligations with the help of a bond issue approved by Ketchikan voters.

For now, as incentive for winter ridership, a ''driver goes free'' program is being offered. The same deal is offered by the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Duvall said about 100 people are using the ferry each day. Freight and commercial vendors also frequently use the system.

For the moment the IFA ferry Prince of Wales is in drydock for scheduled maintenance. Once the ferry is back on the water, a soup and sandwich type menu will be provided through an interim arrangement with another company.

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