By Annie Zak
Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Interesting story out of Alaska where a young couple is building a portfolio of restaurant and hotel properties in the town of Seward. To gear up for the busy summer season, the couple’s businesses lean heavily on foreign workers who come to Alaska through the J-1 visa program, a seasonal work and travel program for international college students.
On the hectic Friday ahead of the Fourth of July, hotelier and restaurateur Elliott Jackson shuffled between his properties in Seward in a delivery van, making the rounds in preparation for one of the busiest weekends of the year.
In the past decade, he and his wife, Toni Strauss, have made a name for themselves by scooping up hospitality sites in the sleepy Alaska town of about 2,700. They’ve amassed something of a small business empire with seven food and lodging businesses.
Their holdings include the Chattermark, Alaska Seafood Grill, Murphy’s Alaskan Inn and the Marina Motel.
The couple recently merged three of their restaurants — the Klondike Pizzeria, the Crab Shack and the Railway Cantina — into one connected food court.
They’ve turned restaurant Christo’s Palace into Seasalt, an eatery with a big new deck for seating.
About 10 blocks south from a cluster of the couple’s restaurants at Fourth Avenue and North Harbor Street is the historic Van Gilder Hotel. They own that too, and Jackson said his father shot and killed the taxidermied brown bear that stands on its hind legs in a room near the entryway.
With so many properties to manage, Jackson, a self-described workaholic, said he’s usually buzzing around doing supply runs and tending to his holdings from 5 a.m. until midnight.
“It’s a lot for one person anywhere,” let alone in a small community, said Cindy Clock, executive director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce.