Alaska Life

From Clinkerdaggers to the Garden of Eatin’, here are the histories of some of Anchorage’s most unique restaurants

Part of a continuing weekly series on Alaska history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage or Alaska history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

In late 1945, Hans and Gerry Kirchner arrived in Anchorage, eager to begin a new life. Unlike many fortune hunters, they were under no illusions about the long, arduous path to success in Alaska. In a town hurriedly dragging itself from mud to pavement, Hans worked for the railroad and Gerry for Alaska Airlines while they waited for an opportunity. Then they bought 25 acres off Spenard Road and declared they would be farmers.

The Kirchners were not natural farmers. What the frost, weeds and worms did not kill, bad luck seemed to cover, as when a plane crashed into their potato patch. Curious townsfolk stomped out the rest. Gerry later wrote, “It has been said that living in Alaska is very much like having a baby. You can’t quite understand what it’s like until you have been through it, and as you survive each event you quickly forget the pain.” Despite being miles from the city core and challenging to reach, they decided to open a restaurant on their property, the Garden of Eatin’.

From the Two Girls Waffle House to the Oyster Loaf to Fat Ptarmigan, one way to look at the history of Anchorage is through the passage of restaurants. Small cafes dotted early Anchorage with limited menus and fads like tamales. Older residents might remember what Anchorage was like before chain restaurants became common, before the first local McDonald’s opened in 1970. Time in Anchorage can be marked by the restaurants that have died and faded into obscurity, or chains that abandoned town: the Aleutian Gardens, the Sabre Jet with the fake airplane on the roof, Dish Sushi with its earworm jingle, Shakey’s Pizza, Uncle’s Pizza Parlor with the pipe organ, Church’s Chicken. Who remembers when Peggy’s Restaurant was briefly rebranded as Buon Appetito in the early 1980s?

With tight margins and competitive markets, the majority of restaurants fail within a year. Only chains and legends last for a decade or more. The Garden of Eatin’ was one such exception. It opened on June 30, 1951, in the Kirchners’ home, a Quonset hut on McRae Road they called Quonsie. From his tiny kitchen, Hans was a magical cook who took pride in his ingenuity and high standards. A later owner described him as “a master chef who could make stock out of muddy water.” Hans himself said, “Food to me, is an inexhaustibly interesting subject. Preparing it well is a creative thing.”

The Garden of Eatin’ was an instant success and soon earned nationwide acclaim. For many years, the humble Quonset hut was a regular base for the local elite and a required stop for tourists eager for something authentically Alaskan. “If work was a measure of wealth, we would be millionaires,” wrote Gerry. The Kirchners were not millionaires, but they were popular and valued. And it beat farming.

The Kirchners sold the business to Larry Osenga in 1970 and settled into the snowbird lifestyle. He maintained the old recipes, but time inevitably brought change, if slowly. Osenga once bragged about the loyalty of his customers to the Daily News, “The ones I lose die. Not from my food — they’re just old-timers. It’s kind of a mature crowd and full of people who say, ‘Damn the diets. I’m going to dinner.’ ” A larger building next door was completed in 1978, now the home of Fiori D’Italia. When the Garden of Eatin’ finally closed in the mid-1990s, it marked the loss of a pre-statehood relic and the end of an era.


As the Garden of Eatin’ became Fiori D’Italia, many Anchorage restaurants possess an ancestry, a list of establishments that preceded them in the same location or building. Looking backward through time, Sami’s City Diner at Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard was previously the site of Trattoria Bella, Phillips International Inn, Flippers and the Wagon Wheel. What is now Snow City Cafe was previously Legal Pizza, which itself lasted for two decades across two downtown locations. Spenard Roadhouse was previously Hogg Brothers Cafe.

Some chain restaurants also earned a spot in local lore. No one who ever ate at Clinkerdagger, Bickerstaff and Pett’s forgot the experience. Most just called it “Clinkerdaggers,” but the full name was even longer. Employees were required to answer the phone, “Clinkerdagger, Bickerstaff and Pett’s Public House, how may I help you?”

Clinkerdagger was a chain based in the Pacific Northwest with the Anchorage franchise located on the ground floor of the Calais Building on C Street. Their style, the main calling card, was loosely based on English public houses from the late Middle Ages through early modern eras. In very simple terms, public houses, from which “pub” is derived, were inns or taverns generally required to provide services to all travelers able to afford the experience. Clinkerdagger featured heavy dark wood furniture, English heraldry on the walls, exposed beams, wood panels and other assorted furnishings similar to a low-budget period movie light on historical accuracy.

The restaurant opened in 1977 and surprisingly closed in September 1987 while allegedly still making a profit. The theme made it difficult for the restaurant to evolve as trends evolved, and the chain eventually collapsed. There is still a Clinkerdagger in Spokane, Washington, though it has dropped the rest of the name. The owners of La Mex opened The Rib Cage at the location in 1988 to middling reviews. Within weeks, it closed in favor of a third La Mex. O’Brady’s Burgers and Brews and Shannon’s Calais Cafe followed in 1991 and April 1994, respectively. And in 1995, the Petroleum Club moved there, finally offering some stability to the site.

[Santa suits, dog food and halted flight in Soviet airspace: Pornographer Larry Flynt’s bizarre day in Anchorage]

While the Garden of Eatin’ had a rare longevity, other restaurants are notable for their brief existence. In an unfortunate turn of events, the most famous chef ever to work in Anchorage had only a fleeting run here. In 1977, Misa and Toshi Nishimura opened Kioi, the first authentic sushi restaurant in town, at Fourth Avenue and H Street. To maintain the highest levels of quality, she imported a traditional sushi chef, a young Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

This was a long time ago, so long that, in its favorable review, the Daily News spent two paragraphs explaining sushi. Now you can buy sushi in gas stations. In 1977, Nobu was young and had yet to experience extended success. He was talented, particularly skilled in fusing cultures, but still far from deserving a mononym. Today, Nobu is a world-renowned chef, restaurateur, hotelier and author with eponymous restaurants and hotels scattered around the globe. And he also worked a downtown Anchorage sushi counter for a little while.

Nishimura said the Kioi prices were comparable with West Coast restaurants. The Daily News review noted, “A sushi combination dinner, including miso soup, tea, and Japanese pickles, can be had for $8.50,” roughly $40 in 2023 dollars. Despite opening outside the tourist season and without advertising, the early returns were promising. Per Toshi Nishimura, “Japanese tourists have been crying that we don’t have a traditional Japanese restaurant here.”

Longtime residents will well remember long-term fixtures like the Garden of Eatin’, but few could have many memories of Nobu in Anchorage. Kioi opened on Oct. 10, 1977. Early on Nov. 30, 1977, an electrical fire broke out in the kitchen, destroying the restaurant. The Nishimuras had more luck with their other business, the far longer-lasting Can-Alaska Fur & Gifts. Nobu moved on to Los Angeles, eventually partnered with Robert De Niro and became a celebrity.

There are hundreds more fondly remembered deceased restaurants than the few mentioned here. The lesson from history is to appreciate beloved restaurants now, as they can disappear with little to no notice. For some establishments, a locked door was the only announcement. Make a trip out for your favorite meals and buy a shirt if they have them, because history suggests there may not be a next time. Try the place you’ve been thinking about but keep putting off, and make a memory.

Key sources:

“$75,000 Fire Closes New Japanese Eatery.” Anchorage Times, December 1, 1977, 31.

“Heart Attack Claims Alaskan Restauranteur.” Anchorage Times, September 8, 1982, E6.

Kirchner, Gerry. “We Found Our Spot in Alaska.” Anchorage: self-published, circa 1960.

Saddler, Daniel R. “Restaurant Success Isn’t on the Menu.” Anchorage Times, July 31, 1988, C9.

Severson, Kim. “What It Used to Be Like to Dine Out in Anchorage.” Anchorage Daily News, June 16, 1993, F1, F5.

Shinohara, Rosemary. “Shop Talk: A Traditional Japanese Restaurant.” Anchorage Daily News, November 25, 1977, 21.

David Reamer | Histories of Alaska

David Reamer is a historian who writes about Anchorage. His peer-reviewed articles include topics as diverse as baseball, housing discrimination, Alaska Jewish history and the English gin craze. He’s a UAA graduate and nerd for research who loves helping people with history questions. He also posts daily Alaska history on Twitter @ANC_Historian.