Crime & Courts

Fairbanks restaurant passing off elk as 'reindeer tenderloin' gets hit with $50,000 in fines

A Fairbanks restaurant that knowingly sold New Zealand elk as reindeer pleaded guilty Tuesday after being criminally charged with violating Alaska food safety laws.

As part of a plea agreement for the misdemeanor charge, The Pump House LLC agreed to pay $50,000 in criminal fines after an investigation revealed the restaurant had been serving elk in place of a "reindeer tenderloin" since at least 2013, according to a statement from the Alaska Department of Law.

The restaurant also agreed to split $10,532 in donations to three Fairbanks nonprofits as restitution and issue a public apology in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Assistant Attorney General Carole Holley said in an interview Tuesday that during a routine health inspection an investigator noted that reindeer was listed on the menu but there was no reindeer meat actually in the restaurant. Employee interviews, including with the restaurant manager, later confirmed that the restaurant had sold elk in lieu of Alaska reindeer.

In its public apology notice printed Saturday, the restaurant acknowledged it learned such a practice was in violation of state and federal law in August 2015. The notice said the restaurant immediately corrected the menu.

Alaska's food labeling laws serve as both a public health service, indicating possible allergy concerns, and to eliminate unfair business advantages.

The restaurant currently lists a "red deer tenderloin" on its menu, served with "berry demi-glace, sweet potato bacon hash and chef's vegetables."

Attorneys for The Pump House declined to comment Tuesday.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.