Traveling seafood salesman casts far and wide for customers

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - 13:59
  • Patrick Johnson’s seafood truck parked alongside the Old Glenn Highway June 8, 2017. Eagle River is one of more than two dozen Alaska communities where Johnson, a Soldotna resident, sells fresh Alaska shrimp and scallops. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Patrick Johnson sells seafood to Ray and Kay Montgomery in Eagle River on June 8, 2017. Johnson, a traveling seafood salesman from Soldotna, visits Eagle River every two or three weeks. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Patrick Johnson scoops fresh shrimp into a bag outside his truck in Eagle River on June 8, 2017. Johnson is a traveling seafood salesman and charter guide based out of Soldotna. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

When Patrick Johnson parks his seafood truck in Eagle River every few weeks, homemade yellow signs point the way.

“Kodiak Scallop Ahead,” the signs read. “Fresh Alaskan Shrimp.”

Spot and side stripe shrimp, scallops, red king crab, halibut, cod — all direct from the nets and pots of fisherman around Alaska – are delivered to Eagle River every few weeks in a refrigerator in the back of a road-worn Ford F350, business licenses and permits taped to a back window.

It’s the only mobile shrimp shop in town.

For Johnson, who lives in Soldotna, Eagle River is one of 27 different sales locations around the state. He parks his truck in roadside lots across the Kenai Peninsula, in Anchorage and the Mat-Su. He’s traveled all the way out to Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Glennallen and Valdez, he said. And the shrimp truck is only a part-time job.

When he first came to Alaska back in 1979, it was to work on charter boat, he said. At one point, the charter season ran for months in a row.

“But the charter business has slowed down,” Johnson said Thursday afternoon, standing beside his shrimp truck in the parking lot outside Great Land Realty. “It just got chopped and chopped and chopped.”

He said he got into the traveling seafood sales business about 15 years ago after an uncle — facing poor prices on Southeast Alaska docks — asked Johnson to try moving some shrimp further north. It flew out of the coolers.

In his early days, Johnson said, he sold up to 400 pounds of head-on shrimp per day, straight off the boat, cheaper than anywhere else. The Anchorage specialty shops hated him, he said.

These days, he’s expanded his offerings and worked out supply deals with approximately 20 Alaskan captains. Besides the charter business and the seafood truck, he owns a storefront in Soldotna – Johnson’s Seafood. His wife runs the Soldotna business while he hits the road Wednesdays through Saturdays, he said. He posts his weekly schedule on a Facebook page: Shrimp Guys.

He arrived in Eagle River on a sunny Thursday in early June, setting up his signs in the dust alongside the Old Glenn Highway.

Customers trickled in off the road, driving away with plump bags of shrimp and chilled boxes of Kodiak scallops. Some said they’d been visiting Johnson’s truck for years. Ray and Kay Montgomery stopped to buy some shrimp to serve to houseguests for dinner that night. The shrimp are best enjoyed raw with wasabi sauce, Kay Montgomery said.

The vast majority of customers are Alaskans, Johnson said. Locals can often catch their own salmon or halibut, but spot shrimp, king crab and Kodiak scallops are harder to come by.

“The reason we exist is pretty much filling that niche,” Johnson said.

When evening fell, he packed his signs and his cooler back into the shrimp truck and hit the road, bound for Anchorage the next day and Homer the next.

He’ll be back, he said.

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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