KENAI -- What began as a way for his granddaughter Kylee to enjoy bacon has led Fred West and Tustumena Smokehouse to Boston to present Kylee's Alaska Salmon Bacon, among other products, at the International Boston Seafood Show next month.
"We never thought it would escalate to this point -- not even close," West said. "But we're very happy."
West's trip to Boston is the result of his smokehouse receiving the Alaska Symphony of Seafood's new products contest grand prize award earlier this month.
"Unbelievable. It totally floored me, I was speechless, I had tears coming down my eyes. I could not believe, here we are," he said, recalling the announcement.
The Symphony of Seafood is sponsored by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation Inc. This was the 19th year of the event. Entrants were judged in three categories -- Retail, Foodservice and Smoked Products.
The concept of the salmon bacon came when West wanted to provide Kylee a way to enjoy bacon despite her allergies. The bacon looks like traditional bacon -- it is processed into thin strips, gets crispy like bacon, smells like bacon, not fish, and it even has a hint of natural maple syrup added. West had no idea the product would gain the attention it has so far.
"The whole story is like a Cinderella story," he said.
West's salmon bacon was awarded first place in the Smoked Products category in addition to the grand prize. His Kylee's Alaska Salmon Bacon is free of hormones, steroids, gluten and other chemicals -- making it edible for those, including Kylee, who normally cannot consume bacon because of allergic reactions.
"Most people that are buying it are people that also have allergies that can't have nitrates in their system and need to be gluten-free," West said. "It's really been humbling for us, it's just been really humbling to reach out and touch so many people."
West credits part of his success to his participation in Global Food Alaska in June, where he introduced his salmon bacon to the public.
"That's how it all started," West said.
AFDF executive director Jim Browning was one of the many people who kept coming up to West for samples, to the point where Browning told West about the Alaska Symphony of Seafoods.
"I tried the salmon bacon and I said, 'Buddy, (we've got to get you) in this seafood show,' " Browning said of the encounter.
Browning said the Alaska event is an even playing field for big companies to compete against smaller operations.
"You get winners from the big companies but just as often you get winners from the small mom-and-pops that are a small operation," Browning said. "So it's not stacked one way or the other."
West's trip to Boston is sponsored by AFDF. He will be representing Alaska along with three other symphony winners. The Boston show will provide them with an international stage for their products.
"I'm going to take full advantage of it," West said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us with a new product."
West said the whole family was put to work last weekend to get the products ready for the show. West is taking about 5,000 samples with him to the East Coast.
"They're expecting 15,000 to 18,000 people to go through (the show)," West said. "We've already been told we're going to get swamped."