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Business/Economy

Open & Shut: Sweet Basil Cafe and other well-known Anchorage restaurants close. But local entrepreneurs aren’t giving up hope.

Tanya and Simon Newall owned Sweet Basil Cafe, which is now closed, on Northern Lights Boulevard. They worked to clear out the building on Jan. 12. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated Anchorage’s businesses since March, forcing many to close their doors for good.

But the pandemic has also highlighted the resilience of entrepreneurs. Many refuse to call it quits, and today, even though times are tough, some are consolidating and adapting.

This article features businesses that have recently opened or closed, or that will soon do so. As the COVID-19 crisis grew last year, the Daily News took a break from Open & Shut to focus on the pandemic’s economic consequences in other ways, from stories about how individual businesses are coping to broad economic forecasts about the city’s future.

With vaccine shots underway to fight the virus, hope is increasingly on the horizon. The moment seemed right to relaunch this column of business openings and closings.

Businesses are continuing to face dire circumstances, especially in the wake of the city’s most recent monthlong emergency order shutting down indoor service at restaurants and bars. This is not an exhaustive list of all the recent closures or openings.

If you know of more businesses that are closing or opening, you can let us know by emailing newstips@adn.com.

Shut

Sweet Basil Cafe: Known for its gourmet soups, pastas and sandwiches, plus its catering services, Sweet Basil Cafe at 1021 W. Northern Lights Blvd. closed on Jan. 4.

“We had been in business almost 25 years,” said Simon Newall, owner of the restaurant with his wife, Tanya.

“It was pretty much COVID and the restrictions put onto us,” Newall said by phone. “Our pockets only go so deep.”

Mitchell Newall helps carry items from now-closed Sweet Basil Cafe on Jan. 12. (Marc Lester / ADN)

During the pandemic, business dried up during the usually busy summer and holiday seasons. Catering typically accounted for about half of the restaurant’s sales, but with many events canceled, the restaurant had only a few catering jobs since March. Sales from dine-in and takeout meals weren’t sustainable.

“It’s a tough for mom-and-pop place,” he said. “Now we have to sit down and take a deep breath and figure this out.”

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage: Opened in 2014 in downtown Anchorage, the rock-themed international chain restaurant at 415 E St. closed permanently on Jan. 6, according to a statement from the chain.

It had been closed temporarily before that, the statement said.

Windows and doors are boarded up at Hard Rock Cafe on Nov. 12. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

Hard Rock International declined to say how COVID-19 affected the decision to close.

“The brand remains committed to the city and is open to having another location within the market, if the right space can be identified in the future,” the statement said.

Body Renew Alaska in East Anchorage: Body Renew Alaska will close its East Anchorage gym, where DeBarr and Muldoon roads meet, on Feb. 15, said Brian Horschel, Body Renew owner and founder.

It will be the second Body Renew to close during the pandemic. The Midtown location on Northern Lights Boulevard closed in August, he said.

The closures leave Body Renew with a single location, its premier gym in South Anchorage at 10325 Old Seward Highway.

Horschel said government restrictions on gyms, including a long closure last spring, alongside wariness from customers concerned about catching COVID-19, hurt sales and growth opportunities.

Horschel said some benefits of operating from a single location include having key employees under one roof and expanded group fitness offerings. The gym also offers online personal training for people at home during the pandemic, Horschel said.

“We made the decision to retain as many employees as we can because we recognize we support more than just employees — it’s their family,” he said. “We’ll probably be a little overstaffed, but we’ll be able to afford that, survive, and provide superior service to all our customers.”

Banana Republic: The clothing retailer’s 5th Avenue Mall location will be open until Jan. 23, according to a store employee. Banana Republic is closing more than 100 stores nationally, company officials said in October. The closure comes as malls struggle to attract business and shoppers increasingly buy products online.

Open

Taste of India: Taste of India opened in early January, replacing Roti Malaysian Bakery and Cafe at 5011 Arctic Blvd., Suite I.

Taste of India co-owners chef Abdul Karim, and manager Rakibul Eshan opened their restaurant on Jan. 8 at 5011 Arctic Blvd Suite I. Photographed on Jan. 14. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Roti opened five months before the pandemic. It closed in June.

Rakibul Eshan, Taste of India co-owner, said he was worried about opening during a pandemic. But his parents work there, saving the business money, and longtime chef and co-owner Abdul Karim is a huge asset, he said.

“His food is very good,” Eshan said.

The restaurant opens at 3 p.m. during the week and 4 p.m. on weekends, a limited schedule that Eshan hopes to eventually expand. It closes at 9:30 p.m. each day.

Business, including takeout, has been good so far, Eshan said. Popular dishes include chicken tikka masala, vegetable samosas and mango lassi drinks, he said.

People interested in dining in the restaurant need to call to make a reservation because of city restrictions limiting capacity, he said.

Sonic Drive-in: Anchorage’s first Sonic Drive-in is set to open this spring or early summer, replacing the Carl’s Jr. at 1137 E. Huffman Road.

Sonic Drive-In plans to open a fast-food restaurant off Huffman Road. Photographed on Jan. 14. (Bill Roth / ADN)

It will be one of the few Sonics nationwide to feature an indoor play area for kids, said Larry Clark, the managing franchise partner.

“That’s why we chose Carl’s Jr.,” Clark said. “It already had one.”

The Sonic will be the third in Alaska, Clark said. The other locations are in Wasilla and Fairbanks.

It’s set up for drive-thru and, of course, car hops delivering food.

“If you had to pick a business for the pandemic, this would be the one,” he said.

Haute Quarter Grill: The 21-year-old downtown restaurant reopens on Tuesday after it shut its doors in November. It will feature new sandwiches and other items incorporated from the Table 6 Restaurant, which closed permanently late last year.

Both businesses were owned by Alex Perez. He blamed Anchorage municipal restrictions on dining, designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, on the Table 6 Restaurant closure. Table 6, a Midtown Anchorage fixture for 10 years, employed about 50 people during peak seasons. Perez listed employees who lost their jobs during a recent Anchorage Assembly meeting.

“The pandemic is real,” but the restrictions were excessive, he said.

Consolidating the menus into one operation is Perez’s attempt to survive as a business owner, he said. He turned out the lights at Table 6 for the last time on New Year’s Eve, he said.

“2020 was the worst year I’ve seen as a business owner,” he said. In the restaurant industry, “you are your business, so yeah, it was emotional. But I hope for the best.”

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