With great eateries tucked away in nondescript strip malls all over town, Anchorage diners are trained to value a restaurant’s food and feel over its location. Hiding inside a beige and red two-story building on a southern stretch of the Old Seward Highway, Gathering AK attracts customers with its unique menu and mission.
The cafe has a something-for-everyone range of offerings, from premium ice cream and fresh-baked sourdough breads to barbecued ribs and fried catfish. Working inside the kitchen is a rotation of chefs building experience through a program that allows them to treat the space as if it were their own restaurant.
The home of Gathering AK is Anchorage re:MADE, a nonprofit business that repurposes and sells donated and salvaged materials. The cafe opened in February 2019.
“We opened on the re:MADE side with the creatives and the artists and the entrepreneurs,” said Patti Buist, re:MADE founder and Gathering AK manager. “We have a commercial kitchen and so we started talking to different people interested in owning their own food business.”
Food safety regulations limit the types of commercial foods that can be prepared in a home kitchen, so an approved place to cook is a critical — and often expensive — part of preparing food for sale. Guest chefs at Gathering AK get a dedicated day of the week to run their business out of the cafe and can schedule additional time as needed. Chefs get the same day every week to keep marketing consistent and allow them to build a following. There aren’t time restrictions on the program: Chefs can walk away after a day, or stay involved for years.
“We love to find people who just have a passion for cooking, or they’ve maybe tried it out of their home and it was a cottage industry for a while and they’re really loving it and then want to grow bigger. Our goal is that they would come and be so successful on their day that they would be able to expand into another location and have a full-on restaurant if that’s what they want to do,” Buist said.
re:MADE collects 20% of the restaurant’s gross sales — no minimum — and keeps credit card tips. Part of that money is invested back into the business for things like equipment, along with packaging and containers the chefs can use for the refrigerated grab-and-go space near the register. Normally, diners can order at the register and eat inside the low-key cafe, but with current restrictions it’s to-go only.
Restaurant menus and information about the guest chef program are available at gatheringak.com.
Ice cream is the specialty at Adrienne Schenfele’s restaurant, Sugar Green. She’s been working out of Gathering AK for a year, but said she’s made ice cream for nearly 30 years. She mixes up flavors like caramel cream with peanut butter chocolate brownie (pint, $7.80) and non-dairy items like blueberry lemon mint (pint, $7.80) and strawberry splash (pint, $7.80) She’s gotten into legal trouble for making ice cream infused with cannabis in the past, but the stuff Schenfele sells at Gathering AK is infusion-free. She said she’s using the space as a test kitchen to build a wholesale ice cream business.
“All the foods that I’m working with, I need to make sure that I’m choosing the right components of the recipe. Where’s the best quality? What’s the cheapest price and what is best for mass producing something? So you play with that and play with that, and then I have a public arena where people can try them and give me feedback before I really go after producing a product,” Schenfele said.
She also saw an opportunity to do bulk orders of savory staples, cookies and brownies.
“Things like breakfast burritos and pizza and confections seem to be in grand demand in to-go right now. That’s something else I’m perfecting, those and looking to wholesale those items.”
She sells take-and-bake or fully prepared 9-inch cauliflower crust pizzas ($12.95-$15.95) and egg white breakfast burritos ($8.50 each, seven for $58).
Baker and pastry chef Katie Wright’s experiences with Altura Bistro, Kaladi Brothers and the Rustic Goat guided her to create Concoction Bread and Provisions. She’s been at Gathering AK for about a year and makes things like a golden loaf sourdough bread spiced with turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper and crystallized ginger ($12), Shokupan milk bread ($12) and whole milk ricotta ($7). Shoppers can pick up a combination box with bread, a spread and treats like a pickled and curried watermelon rind ($25).
“I tend to use more vegetables and spices and natural things to have spreads and items that are more colorful and natural,” Wright said.
In addition to her one day a week at Gathering AK, Wright also does no-contact doorstop deliveries on Fridays and Saturdays, and has a presence at the Saturday Spenard Farmers Market.
“With my background, I knew that I wanted to have a cafe eventually,” Wright said “This gave me an opportunity and a push to have a space every week and to always have a menu. It helped me build a clientele and it also helped me to be consistent with growing my business.”
Wednesday and Thursday
Khanesia Allen’s path to the kitchen was influenced by her father, a head chef, and culinary schooling at Bakersfield College and the University of Alaska Anchorage. She serves Southern classics like fried chicken and catfish dinners with sides, a dessert and a drink ($15-$16) and a loaded potato entree that lives up to its name with a topping of steak, chicken, bell pepper, onion, langoustine and mini shrimp, cheese sauce, green onions and jumbo shrimp ($16).
Allen’s restaurant is named Davon’s Place House of Soul after her son-in-law, Davon Mosley, who died inside a cell at the Anchorage Correctional Complex in 2014. Menus are turquoise, his favorite color.
“He loved my food and he used to say, ‘Ma, you need to open your restaurant. Open it, open it, c’mon girl.’ He always gave me that push. But I was always scared,” Allen said.
She started cooking from her home last August, only to realize that she was violating municipal codes. She received a Facebook message about the guest chef program and started cooking there in October. She recently picked up a second day in the cafe after another chef dropped out, and she’s looking into getting her own space to keep up with demand.
“I get so many customers, they’re mad, ‘I just can never catch you,’” Allen said. “I don’t like to tell them, ‘No, I’m not there today.’ I just want to satisfy my customers and be open every time.”
Frank Canha worked as a tax software developer before his passion for barbecue led him to create Frank’s Bar-B-Que. His menu has favorites like a pulled pork sandwich ($9.95, $13.75 with sides) and specialties like an oak smoked brisket plate ($21.75) and a tri tip sandwich ($9.95, $13.75 with sides).
“One thing that’s unique about our barbecue is that we chargrill everything over mesquite. It’s our technique that no one is doing up here. It’s a game changer,” Canha said.
Part of the first group of chefs in the program, Canha has worked out of Gathering AK since it launched in early 2019. He also has a food cart and is looking for more opportunities to expand. Canha said it’s tricky to sustain a business with sales from just one day a week, but that the guest chef program is a great platform and stepping stone.
“I look at it as a sandbox. It’s a place to try and build what you want to do,” Canha said. “It helped us develop the motions that we need to go through to prepare. Learning how to think on your feet ... it helped us fine-tune our craft.”
A University of Alaska Anchorage culinary graduate with her own catering business, Shawn Dinkins runs the Alaska Sweet & Savory Cafe out of Gathering AK to showcase the kinds of food she could cook up for a wedding, birthday party or business meeting: half pans of beef stroganoff (regular $35, filet mignon $50), broccoli Alfredo ($35) and turkey melt paninis ($10). Her most popular seller is lasagna (serving for two $15, half pan $25, whole pan $42), available hot or take-and-bake.
“Everything that I prepare, I make with love. Being from a big family, I’ve watched my parents prepare meals for 13 children and I think that’s where I got my cooking experience from,” Dinkins said.
Dinkins is the full-time kitchen supervisor at Covenant House and is working on another degree from UAA, this one in human services. She dreams of opening her own place, where she could combine her passions for food and helping those in need.
“I’d like to get my restaurant going and then I could hopefully hire some of the youth and give them a fresh start. They would be able to make some type of income to pay their bills,” Dinkins said. “I’m from a family of social workers, so it came natural. My mom was always a giving woman, she passed that on down to us.”
13500 Old Seward Highway
• Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sugar Green, sugargreenalaska.com, 907-342-9520
• Tuesday, 11 am.-5 p.m.
Concoction Breads, concoctionbreads.com, 907-312-4502
• Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Davon’s Place House of Soul, anchoragesoulfood.com, 907-267-9325
• Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Frank’s Bar-B-Que, franksbarbque.com, 907-917-5511
• Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Alaska Sweet & Savory, gatheringak.com, 907-947-3103
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