Spruce Root business development manager Paul Hackenmueller, Village Coffee Company owner Justyne Wheeler, Foundroot co-owner Leah Wagner, Spruce Root Board Chairwoman Susan Bell and Spruce Root programs manager Ashley Snookes smile together after the presentation of the Path to Prosperity awards Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Spruce Root business development manager Paul Hackenmueller, Village Coffee Company owner Justyne Wheeler, Foundroot co-owner Leah Wagner, Spruce Root Board Chairwoman Susan Bell and Spruce Root programs manager Ashley Snookes smile together after the presentation of the Path to Prosperity awards Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

These two Southeast businesses just won $25K

Alaska-ready seeds and village’s first drive-thru earn awards

Two businesses focused on making food accessible to Southeast Alaskans won an annual business development competition and the $25,000 prize that comes with the distinction.

Foundroot, a Haines-based company that sells seeds proven for Alaska growing conditions, and Village Coffee Company, Yakutat’s first drive-thru business, were announced Wednesday as winners of Path to Prosperity put on by nonprofit Spruce Root. The win means $25,000 for each business.

“There’s this huge hurdle for becoming an Alaskan gardener, and we wanted to remove that,” said Foundroot co-owner Leah Wagner during her acceptance speech at the Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit. “We believe all food production, down to the windowsill herb garden, has inherent value in our food security.”

Foundroot co-owner Leah Wagner and Spruce Root Boardmember Susan Bell share a laugh after Bell told Wagner that Wagner’s company makes magic happen at Bell’s dinner table during the presentation of the Path to Prosperity awards Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Foundroot co-owner Leah Wagner and Spruce Root Boardmember Susan Bell share a laugh after Bell told Wagner that Wagner’s company makes magic happen at Bell’s dinner table during the presentation of the Path to Prosperity awards Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Foundroot, which Wagner owns and runs with her husband, Nick Schlosstein, focuses on producing seeds that can tolerate the cool temperatures, long days and short seasons of Southeast Alaska. The seeds are open pollinated, which means any home gardener can save seeds from what Foundroot sells.

[Alaska Reads Act gets a closer look]

While Foundroot tailors its products for Southeast, Village Coffee Company took a business model that works elsewhere, drive-thru espresso, and imported it to the village of about 660 located roughly 200 miles northwest of Juneau.

“One of my main goals is to create and hire part-time jobs for locals,” owner Justyne Wheeler said during her acceptance speech. “I’m from Yakutat, I’ve lived in Yakutat my whole life — with the exception of going to college for a few years — and one of the most gratifying things about opening this coffee shop is being able to connect to people on a deeper level.”

Village Coffee Company owner Justyne Wheeler of Yakutat gives a speech following the announcement that her business was one of the 2019 Path to Prosperity winners. The distinction comes with a $25,000 prize. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Village Coffee Company owner Justyne Wheeler of Yakutat gives a speech following the announcement that her business was one of the 2019 Path to Prosperity winners. The distinction comes with a $25,000 prize. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Ashley Snookes, programs manager for Spruce Root, said in an interview said both Foundroot and Village Coffee Company faced stiff competition from other entrepreneurs who took part in 2019’s competition, which includes a business boot camp and the creation of business plans evaluated by a five-person panel. The application process for the 2020 competition opens April 1.

“Something that really made Leah’s standout was the attention to detail in her business plan,” Snookes said. “It just looks like she thought of everything. She’s done it in a way that is so mindful of the bigger picture, it made it easy to support her and be excited about her. I think Justyne really stood out because she was making something happen in a community for the first time, and she’s never done it before. There was a lot of excitement to support Justyne and Yakutat through connection.”

[A closer look at State of the State claims]

Wheeler said the prize that comes with being one of Path to Prosperity’s winners will help with creating a new logo for her business and allow her to transition from selling vendor-made baked goods.

“I want to use some of the funds to enroll myself in a baking course, so I can make my own fresh goodies,” Wheeler said.

Wagner said the $25,000 will help with a marketing and rebranding project that she hopes allows Foundroot seeds sprout up in more communities.

“We’re hoping to reach a lot more Alaskans in more remote areas with that marketing help,” Wagner said.

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Former state labor commissioner Ed Flanagan, State Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, and the Rev. Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage wheel boxes of signed petitions into a state Division of Elections office on Jan. 9. The petitions were for a ballot initiative to increase the state’s minimum wage, mandate paid sick leave and ensure that workers are not required to hear employers’ political or religious messages. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Minimum wage increase, ranked choice repeal have enough signatures to be on ballot

A pair of ballot measures have enough public support to appear on… Continue reading

State senators meet with members of the media at the Alaska State Capitol to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

Most Read