If you live in Skagway and you’re looking for tomatoes on Monday, you may be out of luck.
If you were looking for eggs last July 4, you just had to forget about it.
Don’t worry. In Skagway you’ll always eat well. Somehow.
"The long and short of it is that the food comes to Skagway on a barge, and the barge comes out Monday from Seattle,” said Karl Klupar, owner of the Historic Skagway Inn, a bed and breakfast
. "The grocery store usually runs out of food on Monday night because they don’t put the food on the shelves until Tuesday.”
Klupar said the people of Skagway generally know how to plan for food shortages. They grow their own greens, for example, but with the exception of the hardy Yukon Gold cherry tomatoes, tomatoes are hard to get because they need more heat than the Alaska summer can provide.
Contingencies, then, are part of life in Skagway.
"If the barge is late, people go without milk, without cheese, anything that’s fresh,” Klupar said. "You come to a day where you don’t have milk, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. So you use powdered milk. If you have to bake stuff that’s just what you’ve got to do.”
"The other problem is sometimes the milk goes bad in three or four days after shipping. You have to kind of pay attention to when things are coming in on the barge.”
Unlike Juneau, which has a Costco, Skagway eateries have to feed 10,000 people a day during tourism season with only the faith that food will be delivered on time. In addition, federal law prohibits importing fruits and vegetables from Whitehorse, Canada, about two hours away by road. That makes Tuesdays’ deliveries especially important.
"Everyone in town knows when the barge arrives and it can get pretty competitive when shopping at our one grocery store, the IGA.” says Klupar. "Co-workers, friends, neighbors can start fights over a head of lettuce because you have to buy it on Tuesday. The Fire Department moved their Tuesday night fire meetings to Monday so people can go grocery shopping right when the barge arrives.”
In addition, fresh fruit and produce sometimes ripens during the trip to Skagway, forcing restaurant owners to make sure their fare hasn’t become over-ripe or rotten. Still, many restaurant owners like Klupar grow their own greens such as mint and oregano, and although the basil is "kind of fragile,” according to Klupar, it can still grow in Skagway.
Olivia's Bistro at the Skagway Inn grows its own culinary garden.
Of course, if you do grow your own garden, you have it made. "Our garden strawberries are the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted and our raspberry bush is growing into our neighbor’s yard.” says Klupar. The Skagway Inn also has hardy plants like apples and rhubarb, which survive pretty well on their own.
Locally-caught salmon and halibut, on the other hand, are always abundant.
And so is alcohol. "The shelf life is a lot longer,” he said. "Vodka isn’t going to go bad on me in a week. Beer usually lasts a couple months.”
Meanwhile, the egg shortage came when the Municipality of Skagway decided to hold a July 4 egg toss. July 4 fell on a Tuesday, meaning that eggs would be in short supply for the rest of the week.
"All the eggs had been bought by the city,” Klupar said. "The city didn’t think of it. The grocery store didn’t think about it, and the restaurants didn’t think about it. The city wasn’t trying to put anybody out of business, but the rest of us were all scrambling to find eggs.”
Still, no one goes hungry in Skagway. Restaurant owners and private residents are a resourceful lot. They know how to provide culinary delights for themselves and Skagway’s guests no matter the circumstances. But they’d better pay attention to the barge schedule to make sure they have what they need to feed everyone.
"You’re always playing that game,” Klupar said. "If you’re going to run a restaurant you have to look out for that.”