Like so many before her, Karen Able possessed the drive and desire to start a new business. She even envisioned her Valdez-area bar and restaurant’s credo.
“Living in the moment on the harbor eating great food and drinking great Alaska beers,” it reads.
Able had the required entrepreneurial momentum as well as a trusting relationship with her local bankers at First National Bank Alaska. But she needed a name, something that stood out and gave her place the right look and feel.
“At first, I was thinking ‘Karen’s Cove’ because of location on the waterfront,” Able said. “One day, I was on the phone with my brother and the image of a big, fat mermaid suddenly rattled around my head.
“We started laughing so hard, The Fat Mermaid just kind of stuck.”
A painted sign of said mermaid hangs above the door of the bar and restaurant. Various murals and visuals of the legendary aquatic creature can be seen throughout the three-year old establishment.
“The name, the theme, everything’s really paid dividends,” Able said. “It’s been so catchy with people. They seem to really enjoy it.”
Nestled right near the water in Valdez, The Fat Mermaid features an impressive array of options on its menu – burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pastas and gourmet pizzas – and a full beverage service, including 15 craft beers on tap and spirits.
“Look out the window and you’ll see one of the best views in Alaska,” said Able, who’s been in Valdez for almost 23 years. “Strangely enough, the waterfront area was never really the heart of the community.
“But it’s become kind of a hub.”
Able said Valdez itself has gone through quite a transition through the years. She was in town as it began to recover from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and has watched it welcome more and more tourists, backcountry skiers and a fishing community to rival those found in other parts of the state.
The combination of what Valdez was and what it is now and the mixture of people from varied walks of life have helped give The Fat Mermaid a real pulse, day in and day out.
“Pizza and beer, two of our favorite creature comforts,” Able said. “We’ve brought those and other items together into a family-friendly restaurant with an uninhibited style that isn’t completely crazy.”
The Fat Mermaid sees a steady flow of clientele throughout most days and especially during the evening hours. Able said business generally doubles during the summer tourist season.
Able banked at a different institution for a while before making the move to First National.
“I’ve always believed in supporting local and it didn’t take long to figure out I’d be getting some great customer service by banking local,” Able said. “You’ve got to remember, there were times not too long ago when it might be difficult for a woman to get loans and credit cards.
“I went into First National, presented my business plan and simply explained what I needed, and it was quickly made available. Like I said, customer service is everything and First National’s proof is in the pudding.”
Able has worked closely with Vice President Will Stark and Operations Supervisor Sonja Hursh. When The Fat Mermaid needed a cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) system, it was Hursh who brought Clover™ to Able’s attention.
The restaurant installed the system in March and Able noticed immediate improvements.
“From the date we went live, we can read sale reports and find numbers much faster than we had before,” Able said. “It is also the kind of system that keeps employees loyal to their tasks because there are no shortcuts to how it works in terms of entering orders or tracking inventory.”
Hursh and other Clover technicians spent two days at The Fat Mermaid tutoring Able and her staff on the finer points of the system. The business and Able’s affinity for First National has only improved since.
“The bank forged a relationship and with every bump and bruise along the way, it’s stood by me,” Able said. “From a business standpoint, First National helped me through the tough times of growing our company.
“This allowed me to create a level of trust with my community. Valdez has really embraced us and put The Fat Mermaid on the map.”
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