Business/Economy

Open & Shut: Anchorage gets a new vegan restaurant, juice bar, indoor dog park and Russian dumpling diner

Open & Shut is an ongoing series looking at the comings and goings of businesses in Southcentral Alaska. If you know of a business opening or closing in the area, send a note to reporter Alex DeMarban at alex@adn.com with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.

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Preference: The slowdown in sales in the early days of COVID-19 last year forced Dan Brown out of his job as a chef at the Sunrise Grill in Palmer.

But after scoring a good deal on a used food truck, he quickly set up shop on a corner in South Anchorage off the Old Seward Highway. He began dishing up vegan versions of hearty American fare.

“I have two kids and I was just trying to make it through the early stages of the pandemic,” said Brown, 28.

Preference, the vegan food truck, sold out almost daily, he said.

Customers gobbled up the sauce-slathered double-decker burgers, made from plant-based patties. They loved his deep-fried, breaded strips of vegan chicken, handmade from vital wheat gluten. They could top it off with ice cream shakes made from coconut milk.

He pocketed enough profits that on Friday, he opened Preference in a storefront in northeast Anchorage, at 360 Boniface Parkway, Suite B11. He’s no longer running the food truck, which was a pain in winter because food needed hauling out every night so it wouldn’t freeze.

Preference is the only fully vegan restaurant in town, Brown said.

Social media and word of mouth have helped drive sales, he said. It’s key that his meals are based on traditional American cuisine, like vegan chicken strips on waffles for breakfast.

“It’s food that people don’t expect to be vegan,” he said.

Unleashed Alaska: Chelsea Coartney had a moment of reckoning one day six years ago. A mother of three at the time, she was living paycheck to paycheck and needed federal aid to buy baby formula. She broke down crying that day.

But she refused to give up, she said. She set a goal of making $1 million in five years. She says she did it, investing in stocks and startup businesses, managing property and running a dog-breeding business.

Now, she’s pouring her earnings into a new effort: an indoor dog park that Coartney says is the only one in Alaska.

Unleashed Alaska, south of Midtown at 166 E. Potter Drive, is also part doggie day care and boarding facility. Located in a revamped warehouse, it’s a clean place for pets and their people.

The animals scamper on dog-friendly synthetic turf. The owners can hang out and drink coffee, or leave.

Unleashed Alaska gives dog owners an option if they want to get away from the Alaska weather, said Coartney, who is from Utqiagvik.

The members-only business has already accepted about 200 clients, she said. About twice that many are waiting to join after signing up online, she said. Dogs must first undergo temperament tests at the dog park.

On Thursday, five dogs played on a field with a couple of pet attendants. They’re called “rufferees,” Coartney said.

The dogs wore doggie diapers, as required. They get regular restroom breaks in an outside fenced area along the building.

Garbanzo, a goldendoodle, had boarded there several days while his owners get married in Hawaii, an employee said.

In the play area, flat screen TVs played movies such as “101 Dalmatians.” Grooming services are coming, Coartney said. Coartney’s daughter, who is 10, helps wash dogs at a washing station named for her: Aaliyah’s Wiggly Wash.

“This is a whole new concept,” Coartney said. “People aren’t able to wrap their heads around why we would want to spend this much money on dogs. But I’ve had this dream for a long time, and I’m willing to dump all my money into it.”

Pel’meni: Mark Moore got his start making Russian dumplings at Pel’meni restaurant in Juneau 15 years ago, eventually becoming manager.

Two years ago, in a licensing partnership with the owner, he opened up a Pel’meni in Sitka.

Now, he’s “slinging dumplings” in Anchorage after opening a Pel’meni downtown, across from the Hotel Captain Cook, at 434 K St. He said he’s always wanted to bring the concept to Anchorage, so he moved his young family here this summer.

Moore planned to officially open this weekend. But word spread on social media as he held soft openings — practice runs for friends and family.

People he didn’t know began showing up, and lots of them. Around lunchtime on Thursday, the restaurant was packed.

“I guess we’re open now,” he said, laughing.

Moore makes two kinds of dumplings, beef and potato. He puts a twist on traditional flavors by adding toppings like sriracha sauce, curry and cilantro, and sour cream, he said.

The dumplings were traditionally used in Siberia to provide food on long hunts, he said.

Customer Tasha Boyer, who used to live in Sitka, loved getting dumplings at the Pel’mini there, she said. Now that she lives in Anchorage, she had to come to this store.

“My family is obsessed with them,” she said.

Pure and Pressed Juice: Stephanie and Collin Agni opened their first juice and smoothie bar in late 2019, shortly before the pandemic, in the Huffman Business Park in South Anchorage.

It was a tough time to start, but it benefited Pure and Pressed Juice because people took an increased interest in their well-being, Stephanie said.

“A lot of people were coming in because they wanted healthier options to provide more nutrients to their body to keep their immune system strong,” Stephanie said.

That supported sales at the juice bar, which helped the Agnis open a section location in Midtown in late September.

The new storefront at Dover Center at 236 W. 34th Ave., Suite 224, opened in response to customer requests for a more central location, she said.

Some clients are increasingly buying bulk orders of bottled juice online, for pickup at the stores, she said.

“We are pressing hundreds of pounds of produce per day, and for all the compost we have, we’ve partnered with farms in the Valley to give to their pigs,” she said.

The cold-press process squeezes out the maximum amount of juice and retains more vitamins, minerals and enzymes than traditional juicing, she said. The store doesn’t add sugar, syrups, additives or concentrates.

“We use raw and real produce for everything we make,” she said.

Popular juices include the Green Daily Detox, filled with two pounds of leafy greens, plus cucumber and lemon. It’s essentially salad in a bottle, without the dressing, Stephanie said.

Other favorites are the fruit-based Immune Kicker, with red apple, ginger, lemon and cayenne pepper, and the Anti-Inflammatory, made mostly from carrots with ginger, apple and lemon, Stephanie said.

Tudor Market: With the COVID-19 pandemic jostling the economy, Thelma Sipin and her sister Johnnette Obillo opened a business together as a financial backstop to their day jobs in telecommunications and real estate, respectively.

Tudor Market opened in late August in a strip mall at 2476 E. Tudor Road.

The store carries hard-to-find frozen fish from the south Pacific Ocean, plus other food sought by Anchorage’s Asian and specifically Filipino communities, said Sipin, whose family is originally from the Philippines.

There’s birch flower, or alukon, a green vegetable from trees in the Philippines that’s often added to soups, she said. The store sells the banana blossom, a flower often used in fish-based soups.

The frozen lato, basically a seaweed that goes with fried fish, is the closest you can get in Alaska to eating it fresh in the Philippines, Sipin said.

“A lot of people have been coming in for that,” she said.

Cowork by RSD: In a twist on traditional office space, a commercial property owner has transformed a four-story downtown Anchorage building into a sleek coworking facility where members rent desks and offices over periods that suit their needs, whether it’s a day or a year.

Robin Brena said he wants Cowork, which started Monday, to be a community space that provides business development services for small start-ups.

“We’ll actively sponsor events of interest to our members that can assist them,” said Brena, majority owner of RSD commercial property company. “We’ll have bankers come in and talk financing. Lawyers will talk about contract and entity formation.”

After a $3 million overhaul, the coworking offices at 911 W. Eighth Ave. provide ultra-fast internet, locally brewed beer and an espresso bar using Kaladi Brothers beans. There are sound booths for livestreaming, a nursing room for mothers, and smart TV screens, high-tech audio and 360-degree cameras for Zoom meetings.

The centerpiece on the first floor is a circular glass fireplace, a large sofa arced around it. Mail can be delivered to private boxes, and parcel lockers open with the wave of a phone app. There’s free parking on site, and clients with full-time memberships get round-the-clock access.

A high-end ultraviolet air filtration system is aimed at helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses, said Brena, an oil and gas attorney who led last year’s unsuccessful citizen initiative to overhaul production taxes.

“People tired of working from home who want a safe community can do that,” he said.

Cowork by RSD is hosting a happy hour with free use on Oct. 15, from 3-7 p.m.

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