Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Food Insider takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we feature Slader Marshall, owner and operator of one of Little Rock’s newest food trucks, Slader’s Alaskan Dumpling Co. The dumpling operation’s original location still resides in Searcy, but Slader only recently brought his goods to Little Rock.
When did you open Slader’s Alaskan Dumpling Co. (SADCo.) in Searcy?
SADCo. opened its doors January 21, 2014.
Are you a native Arkansan?
I am native to Alaska, but I am not a native Alaskan Indian. I have lived in Juneau my whole life. I went to college at Harding University in Searcy, but until 2014 I was living in Alaska. I still return home about 2-3 times a year. (Parents and sister still live in Juneau).
What was Juneau like?
I feel that it was a truly different experience. There were no roads in or out of Juneau. The saying is, “There are only three ways to enter Juneau: by boat, by plane, or by birth canal.” It’s home to glaciers, skiing, hiking, fishing, and miles and miles of wide open space. It is still home to me.
What was the food scene like there?
The food scene is very diverse and almost all locally-owned and operated. Other than a Subway and a McDonalds, we have no chain restaurants. I mean, seriously, like no Chili’s, Olive Garden, Wendy’s…nothing. A lot of the food culture in Alaska is driven by the fishing industry, so a lot of our restaurants center around salmon, halibut, and crab. Also, because of the recent history of gold panning, mining, and homesteading, there is a great effort to include local plants and herbs in meals. Of all that Alaska has to offer, the thing that all of my friends comment on, after spending time up, there is how amazing the food is.
Where did you learn to make Alaskan dumplings or Pel’Meni?
I learned how to make Pel’Meni from friends and family while growing up. I can’t really pinpoint when this happened because it was just kind of always around. It’s a passed-down, homemade recipe, so everyone makes it a little different. It was something that I always craved, so after a while, I kind of just taught myself to make it. The dish itself originated from the Russian’s influence in Alaska.
How did living in Alaska affect what your business in Arkansas?
It affected everything. If you have been to the shop in Searcy, it is filled with Alaskan maps and pictures of places where I grew up…things that I have personally experienced. There is a map in the shop from a restaurant where my family ate at every week, there are pictures of whales and bears that my friends took themselves and sent to me. The shop is filled with memories of my childhood and now the shop is giving back memories itself.
What are some things people might be surprised to learn about Alaska?
It is 3.5 times bigger than Texas, and end-to-end, Alaska would actually cover the United States from the West to East Coast. Saying that, there are only about 750,000 people that live there, which is about half the size of San Diego, CA. Because the cost of living is so high, and because of our surplus of oil, every Alaskan resident gets a dividend check of about $800-$1500 a year. (Which pretty much paid my way through college.)
You guys specialize in a very unique dumpling. Where does Pel’Meni originate from?
Pel’Meni is a Russian dumpling, so its origins are in Eastern Europe. Because of Alaskan’s Russian history, it made its way to Alaska. There are around 10 restaurants that serve Pel’Meni throughout the state.
How does your Pel’Meni vary from the traditional form?
The traditional form is boiling the dumplings and strictly putting melted butter and some sour cream on top. We switch it up and add sriracha sauce with curry powder and cilantro.
Compared to your restaurant in Searcy, what’s it been like serving out of a truck in Little Rock?
So the biggest challenge for us in Searcy was just convincing people to try a food that they have never heard of. With the truck, the challenge has been trying to learn the growing food truck scene in Little Rock and where we fit into all of that. But the overwhelming saving grace is that in both locations, we have people that really love and respect what we are doing and are eager to get on board and support us. Little Rock has really received us well and it was an awesome decision to come!
How have you liked living in Little Rock? What are some of your favorite eats around town?
My wife and I moved here after we got married in January 2016 (passed the 6 month mark now, so we are well on our way to our white picket fence) and we have loved living in Little Rock. I thought I was familiar with Little Rock, but it’s always surprising what little gems you find by making connections with people or simply driving around and taking some risks. We live in the Hillcrest area so we hit up Damgoode Pies probably once a week. Big fans of Layla’s, The Root, Baja Grill, Southern Gourmasian and for a real hidden gem, Mr. Chen’s has some bomb chinese food. We are working most of the day, so the benefit of working in a food truck is we are at events with all of the best food trucks in town…so of course we take every opportunity to roll with them!
I know you like to travel and explore the outdoors. What are some of your favorite places to visit?
I love the outdoors and will take every opportunity to get outside (when its not 105 degrees). Inside the state, I love going up to Northwest Arkansas and getting on the Buffalo and kayaking or camping. We spend most of our fall season up in the Ozarks to have an excuse to take pictures for our shops merchandise. Out of the state…I was raised in the Pacific Northwest so if I am getting on a plane, that is most likely the direction I am heading. Winter is for skiing, and that is about as important to me as sweet tea is to the South. I like to spend time in Denver, Seattle, California and of course back home at The Last Frontier. I have definitely learned one thing from growing up in Alaska, one thing that has shaped my life and my businesses…sometimes you need to get out and enjoy what God created around you. That’s partly why we are so excited about the food truck, because although Little Rock is where we will be stationed and most of the time, we are excited about the flexibility to be able to get out and visit parts of the state that don’t yet know about SADCo.