The owners of Anchorage's bustling Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, tucked in South Addition, will open a second bakery this summer in Airport Heights.
"We all feel that this is a long time coming," said Rachel Saul, who owns the bakery with her parents, Jerry Lewanski and Janis Fleischman. "We're super jazzed to really move forward on a second location."
For the past four years, the trio has sought a new space -- one nestled in a neighborhood like their current bakery. But in a city flush with strip malls, a small commercially zoned property in a residential area proved hard to find.
"Anchorage was built mostly in the '70s and '80s, and at that point people felt like residential and commercial should be really separate," Fleischman said.
They scoured the city, scouted out properties and put in a few bids. For a brief period, it appeared they would join the revitalization of the old La Mex restaurant building in Spenard. Then, a deal that they had long worked on in Airport Heights came through.
The new bakery will sit near the intersection of East 16th Avenue and Logan Street, a corner surrounded by quaint homes, Airport Heights Elementary School and Manai-Fou Assembly of God, a Samoan church.
"I love this neighborhood," said Saul, who recently lived in Airport Heights. "The community -- they really are out. I knew all my neighbors within a few months."
Saul said the goal is to run the new bakery just like the first one: Keep it small, keep it community-centered and continue to produce high-quality food.
They have already bulked up their staff in preparation for the summer opening. Bakers have started to practice making different pastries and sweet breads to serve the neighborhood's Samoan community, Saul said.
Fleischman said they plan to open the new location in phases. Their property encompasses two buildings -- one a former flower shop and the other Lei's Island Fabrics & Sewing Shop, owned by Lei Fainuulelei.
They're currently renovating the vacant building, which will have a few tables inside. Bakers will make cookies and muffins on site, while staff will bring other breads and pastries over from the original South Addition location.
They plan to outfit the building with a front porch and backyard garden to assimilate it into the neighborhood. Fruit trees will be planted in a grassy backyard and outdoor tables set up on a flagstone patio.
"We think small is cozy and wonderful," Fleischman said.
The mother and daughter said they expect to open the new building by this summer but have yet to set a specific date. The hours and days of operation also remain undetermined.
The second construction phase for the bakery will likely not begin until 2016. But before that, the owners will have to navigate Anchorage's rewritten land use and zoning code, also known as Title 21, Fleischman said.
Next year, the plan is to expand the building in Airport Heights, though it will remain similar in size to the South Addition space. With the bigger building, bakers will make everything on site. Saul said they also hope to have a small market where they will sell items like organic milk, eggs and butter so that families can walk or bike to the bakery to pick up simple cooking items.
"We're looking to be a community partner in people's meals," she said.
Lei Fainuulelei, who attends the nearby church, said she is looking for a new space for her fabrics business and looks forward to the new bakery.
"I know this is going to be the spot to go for our church," she said of the bakery.
Fleischman said that they also hope the Airport Heights bakery will serve the three nearby hospitals, the university community and surrounding neighborhoods. They will continue to use only organic, non-GMO ingredients. They will also continue to close in January so staff weary after a busy holiday season can do short internships at other eateries, just as is done in South Addition.
The Fire Island bakery in South Addition opened in February 2009. At that time, Fleischman had recently retired from her job as an assistant principal at East High and her husband had retired from his position as Alaska's director of state parks. Neither expected the bakery to draw as many customers as it did; nor did they expect to open the second location, Fleischman said.
In fact, when the couple talked about their plans for a bakery, Fleischman said, some of their family and friends scoffed at the idea of opening a business in a neighborhood. How would people know where it was? Where would they put signs? Mixing commercial and residential property had succeeded in other cities but the trend had not swept Anchorage.
"One thing we never, ever, ever planned is that we would open the doors and sell out," Fleischman said.
Fleischman called her four children back to Anchorage to help out as the demand grew. It was "all hands on deck," she said. Her youngest daughter would eventually become the bakery's third owner. Fleischman said she and her husband quip that she's their "exit ramp."
But before anyone exits, the three are working together to plan the new family-owned location.
"We're really excited but also it's terrifying," Fleischman said.