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 email@example.com with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.
Selfie WRLD Alaska: Aaliyah Warner was intrigued when she saw people on social media taking fun, high-quality selfies at a national chain called Selfie WRLD.
The teen wanted her dad, a technical sergeant who will soon retire from the Alaska Air National Guard, to open up a Selfie WRLD in Alaska as part of his next career.
But Spellman Warner had just started a construction company. He said it was a no-go. That is, until the family happened across a Selfie WRLD while vacationing in Los Angeles.
They had a blast. “It was like, man, we gotta get one of these in Alaska,” he said.
Just before Halloween, Selfie WRLD Alaska opened in the Dimond Center mall, near the Chili’s Bar and Grill at the west end.
Guests pay by the hour, visiting themed, neon-lit studios. Among the booths is a mock jailhouse, a 1950s diner with a jukebox and a cash-filled office fit for a tycoon.
Lighted camera stands help sharpen photos. A rotating stand creates spinning selfies in the 360-degree room.
Guests are booking the space for birthday parties and other events, Warner said. Professional photographers are using it for fun wedding shoots and other photos.
“The thing that’s great about this franchise is that it will do so much for Alaska teens,” Warner said.
Charon’s Crate: Cory Leicester was dismayed after he lost his bartending job at SubZero Bistro and Microlounge when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
SubZero had closed then, and remains closed 20 months later.
But Leicester thought his years of making high-end cocktails could always land him work. He never counted on the entire industry shutting down.
“It was really, really rough,” he said.
But after two months without a job, he ended his “pity party,” as he called it, and rewired his thinking. If his customers couldn’t come to him, he’d go to them.
That’s how Charon’s Crate was born.
At charonscrate.com, customers order the makings for Leicester’s high-end cocktails, for pickup at La Bodega in Midtown Anchorage.
It’s like a cocktail party in a box, hand-made and designed by Leicester, with enough for four cocktails.
The inaugural month of November featured little bottles of gin, garnishes like cinnamon sticks, and hand-crafted mixers, like his Chinese five-spice infusion syrup. He provided recipes for three variations, including a hybrid of a Manhattan and Old Fashioned.
Sales and customer response were “overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
“It feels really, really good when you pour your heart and soul into something for a year and people respond to it like they did,” he said.
Each month after the boxes are distributed, he’ll also host an interactive show on YouTube, showing customers how to make the cocktails. Details on how to access the show are in the box.
In the November show, Leicester explained why he named the business after the Greek deity who ferries souls across the Styx River so they can continue on their journey to the underworld.
“We thought Charon was some pretty good symbolism for us (mixologists), that we’re going to do whatever it takes to connect with our guests, connect with our friends and continue to bond over cocktails,” he said.
Orders for the next month’s box start Dec. 1. It’ll be a holiday-themed concoction, he said.
He’d like to eventually expand his business nationally, with mail-order shipments where states allow it.
The idea is unusual, he said. “It’s been a challenge to figure out this puzzle, but I’m super excited that I’m in a situation where I can get this concept going in Anchorage while I figure out the long-term and the scalability of it,” he said.
The Rickshaw: A former kayaking and hiking guide in Alaska, Phu Ngo started the Rickshaw out of a food truck nearly a decade ago in Seward.
He soon expanded to indoor locations in Girdwood in winter, and in Bellingham, Washington. But new owners took over at both sites, with new plans. That forced those Rickshaws to close.
Now, Ngo is focusing on Anchorage.
Last month, The Rickshaw Alaska opened a dine-in restaurant at the Dover Center in Midtown, at 142 W. 34th Ave. Ngo is serving up ramen, teriyaki chicken, chicken and tofu curries, butter chicken and other dishes.
Due to pandemic-induced staffing shortages, hours are currently limited to lunch hours on weekdays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said. The schedule will expand soon hopefully, he said.
Ngo was born to Chinese parents in Vietnam. He came to the U.S. with his family as a child in the late 1970s, amid political uncertainty in Vietnam after the war.
He’d been hoping to open in Anchorage for a couple of years, but the pandemic put plans on hold.
“Restaurant ventures alone are risky, and in the middle of a pandemic it was even riskier,” he said.
The experience with the previous Rickshaws should help him do well in Anchorage, he said.
Some of the tables are set up to receive hot pots, allowing diners to cook at their tables if they wish, he said. That option will be available in the future, too.
“Our philosophy is put out good food, and win folks over with good customer service and attention to detail,” he said. “We want people to feel like their was money well spent, like that was a good experience and the food was good.”
Alaskan Burger and Brew: Ezequiel Rodriguez launched his second restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic in October.
Alaskan Burger and Brew features an Alaska-themed decor with animal mounts on the walls, plus an array of burgers, from basic options like bacon-wrapped cheeseburgers, to veggie, halibut, salmon and even mac-and-cheese burgers.
The drink menu includes Alaska-made beers, with wines as well.
The pandemic has sunk some businesses, but created opportunities for others.
Rodriguez, part of the Gallo family of restaurateurs, opened Manhattan Restaurant and Lounge this summer in South Anchorage, in the former Bradley House.
“It’s been great,” he said of sales at both sites.
Alaskan Burger and Brew is located in the former Villa Nova restaurant, near the intersection of Arctic Boulevard and International Airport Road.
Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids: The kid-centric franchise opened its first location in Alaska early this month in South Anchorage, at 11124 Old Seward Highway. Bay 300, near South Restaurant and Coffeehouse.
Babies and children get their haircuts in what looks like a colorful daycare. Instead of a salon chair, the little patrons sit in tiny cars. There’s a playground, kids’ Netflix shows during the haircut, and balloons and lollipops when they’re done.
“We want to make haircuts fun for children, so they enjoy going to the salon as much as their parents,” said Heather Green, a manager and hairdresser.
There’s a regular salon chair, too, for parents or older kids.
The business is off to a good start, especially on weekends, Green said.
“We prefer appointments but we take walk-ins if we have the space,” she said.
Credit Union 1: The Alaskan financial cooperative opened its 12th branch early this month.
Credit Union 1 officials said the new location in South Anchorage provides virtual-teller machines, giving live employees more time for customers. The credit union also doesn’t have teller lines, so there’s space for a coffee lounge, advisory suites and “open concept consultation areas” for discussing financial matters.
Called Financial Center South, the new branch is located at 8935 Old Seward Highway, near Texas Roadhouse,
“Our service goal is to make our employees available to sit down and talk through financial questions with you, rather than serve you as quickly as possible and send you on your way,” said Anna Phommalinh, the branch manager. “For those quick to-dos, our members don’t need to wait – they can self-service at a virtual teller machine.”
Sushi and Sushi: The sushi restaurant located near the Alaska Rock Gym closed its doors after 10 years in service.
The business website said it was “relocating” to Tozai Japanese restaurant, a sister operation with similar ownership, at 639 W. International Airport Road. The change came in mid-November, the site says.
Tozai features a variety of sushi rolls, udon noodle dishes and teriyaki chicken and salmon dishes, among other items.
Tozai’s owners could not be reached for comment.
Bubbly Mermaid Oyster Bar: The longtime downtown oyster bar closed its doors in October following a dispute over rental fees with the landlord, but owner Apollo Naff is still hopeful the differences can be resolved and he can reopen.
The bar off D Street near Fourth Avenue opened nine years ago. Naff said it operated on a very limited schedule during the pandemic, allowing one group at a time to maintain social distancing.
That limited revenues. The oyster bar was unable to land much of the pandemic aid that kept many businesses afloat. Naff owed back rent, but the dispute has centered over the late fees, he said.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee southside cafe: It’s really a move, said Tim Gravel, president of Kaladi’s.
The cozy cafe off the Old Seward Highway in South Anchorage, in operation for about 15 years, will be replaced by a Kaladi Brothers drive-thru in the same parking lot, Gravel said.
It will be the first Kaladi’s standalone drive-thru, and will be located at 9900 Old Seward Highway.
The cafe shared space with L’Aroma Bakery and Deli. But L’Aroma left the site this summer. That pushed lease costs too high for a standalone coffee shop, Gravel said.
Kaladi left the space in late October.
“So it was like, let’s think outside the box,” he said.
That led to the drive-thru. It would have opened by now, but pandemic-related supply shortages delayed the plan.
“You know what they say, though, when one door closes another one opens,” Kaladi said in a Facebook post.