Open & Shut: A diner, a barbecue joint and a taqueria open in Anchorage. Plus: New airport dining options, and an auto body shop shutters.

Also, a newly renovated downtown hotel and Spenard wellness center have opened while a U-Haul storage facility is on the way. Recently closed Sparta Pizza is up for sale.

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 with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.


Heidi’s Family Restaurant: Heidi Hart and her boyfriend Sali Kasoski scrimped and saved money from restaurant jobs to open this new diner in Midtown Anchorage last month.

Sales at Heidi’s Family Restaurant have been strong, and customers who Hart served in the past at restaurants such as Southside Grill show up regularly, she said.

“People from come far away to support you, and you realize you’re just as important to them as they are to you,” said Hart, 29. “That’s a nice feeling.”

The fare is American. Popular dishes include chicken fried steaks, burgers, and biscuits and gravy, she said. “The gravy is made fresh each morning, so that’s something people really appreciate,” Hart said.

Hart said she met Kasoski, originally from Albania, about six years ago at Southside Grill, where he cooked.

They wanted to open a family-style diner, but restaurant space was hard to find the last few years as businesses stayed put during the pandemic. But this spot at the former Tofu House finally opened up, at the northeast corner of Arctic Boulevard and International Airport Road.

Heidi’s is designed to be that “local neighborhood spot you bring your kids to,” Hart said. It opens at 6 each morning, earlier than most restaurants, “to save” construction crews from grabbing gas-station breakfasts, she said.


It’s closing at 3 p.m., earlier than hoped, because finding enough workers has been “a nightmare” during the labor shortage, she said. Hart plans to extend the restaurant’s hours in the coming months.

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Taqueria Cortez: The owner of this food truck off Fireweed Lane said the family operation teaches his kids the value of hard work.

Taqueria Cortez dishes up tacos, burritos, gorditas and other items. They’re filled with grilled chicken, steak and pork.

Ramon Cortez, a longtime Alaskan originally from Central Mexico, said he prepares fresh corn tortillas daily for his regular-sized tacos, the way his grandma taught him. He also sells a variety of chicken wings, burgers, rice bowls, shakes and other items.

Cortez, who says he was laid off last year after working many years at Gallo’s Mexican Restaurant, took out a loan to open Taqueria Cortez in August. The colorful truck adorned with images of the U.S. and Mexican flags is parked at the gravel lot where DD’s Burgers once operated, at 440 B W. Fireweed Lane.

Cortez said two of his kids, Nivia, 15, and Oscar, 14, walk to the food truck each afternoon from West High School to run the register and pack up orders. His son Marcos, 22, also helps.

“A rule as a parent is you teach them how to get good grades and then work,” he said. “I’m very excited because the two youngest ones, when I was working all the time, I couldn’t spend time with them. Now, here I can work with them.”

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49th State Brewing: The restaurant and brewery in downtown Anchorage is expanding into the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport with two new locations.

One will open in the coming days in the South Terminal lobby, serving waiting families, or travelers before they pass through the security area.

The other already opened on Aug. 1, for travelers who have passed through security screening. It’s located in the South Terminal C Concourse. That restaurant features dishes such as Alaska crab rangoon made with house-made sweet and sour sauce, or fries topped with smoked prime rib shavings and smoked mozzarella, said David McCarthy, co-owner of the restaurants.

There are also 20 brews on tap, plus other drinks like cider made from Alaska apples, he said. A gift shop sells Alaska-made items, such as the company’s blueberry soda, Copper River Seafoods smoked salmon and Heather’s Choice backpacking food.

At the restaurant, antlers dangle from the ceiling and a copper-topped bar stretches about 75 feet, said Ellen Maloney, a spokeswoman with the restaurant group.


Maloney said 49th State now holds the largest lease for concessions at the airport. To win the leases, 49th State competed against multibillion-dollar corporations operating at airports in multiple countries, she said.

Maloney said Ted Stevens airport officials chose to go with a local restaurant. “We appreciate that,” she said.

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Highliner Hotel: Three Anchorage men with backgrounds in commercial fishing and real estate re-opened this three-story hotel in downtown Anchorage in July.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut it down three years earlier, when it operated under different ownership as the Anchorage Downtown Hotel.

The most successful fishing boats are called “highliners,” and the Highliner Hotel has been fully renovated with a fishing-focused theme, Michael Baccari and Taylor Evenson said in an interview. They own the hotel along with Teague Russell, who has a background in construction management.

“It’s had a complete facelift,” Baccari said.


Automated entry means no key cards or keys. New furniture includes handmade Sitka spruce tables and desks. Art by Evenson’s dad, Thor Evenson, highlights fishing in Alaska. Glass fishing floats and authentic Japanese boxes for packing roe, salvaged from an Alaska cannery, also decorate the rooms.

The hotel will add a Caffe D’Arte Alaska shop in the coming days, Baccari said. The hotel will sell quick-serve meals prepared by Palmeira Tropical Fusion, a downtown Latin fusion restaurant. Highliner is located just north of the Delaney Park Strip at 826 K St.

“Our goal definitely is to make Anchorage a better place,” Evenson said.

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BBQ Kitch’n: Restaurateur Jack Lewis converted empty storage space behind Firetap Alehouse into this to-go barbecue joint in June.

BBQ Kitch’n sells mesquite-smoked fare such as baby back ribs and carved beef brisket, along with sides, desserts and drinks. On the menu are the corn fritters with honey butter that Lewis sold for years at his former Sourdough Mining Co. restaurant, which closed in 2016.

The kitchen is operated by Firetap Alehouse, co-owned by Lewis. Orders can be made online, and customers can pick up meals or get third-party deliveries from companies such as DoorDash. It’s located at 10950 O’Malley Centre Drive, Unit B-2.


The kitchen is open from 4 until 8:30 p.m. on most nights, closed on Sundays and Mondays, said Lewis, who owns other restaurants including the new Blarney Stone Pub in downtown Anchorage.

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Thrive Integrative Medicine: This wellness center with naturopathic care, massage therapy, yoga classes, acupuncture and other services has opened a new location in Spenard, leaving behind its old digs along Northern Lights Boulevard.

It’s now at 3835 Spenard Road, formerly the home of an architectural firm, said Thrive owner Abby Laing, a naturopathic doctor.

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U-Haul Moving & Storage: The moving truck franchise will open a self-storage location in South Anchorage on Sept. 29, at 3751 W. Dimond Blvd.

Phoenix-based U-Haul owns 11 locations in Alaska, and has a network of 25 independent businesses that have signed on as U-Haul neighborhood dealers. It has operated in the state for more than 40 years.

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Auto Barn: This body shop in Mountain View closed in June after more than 20 years in business.

Longtime owner Joel Barker said he’s retiring from Auto Barn but planning to do some “hobby-level,” freelance auto-body work.

Other factors that led to the closure include the difficulty finding skilled workers, and the high cost of insurance, he said.


The shop at 2849 Porcupine Drive had a long waiting list and was known for quality work and treating customers fairly, said Joel’s father, Peter Barker, in an email.

“I had a lot of great customers,” Joel Barker said. “I’m definitely going to miss all the people, and without the business I’ll probably never see some of them again.”

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Sparta Pizza: This pizzeria in South Anchorage closed early this summer.

Owner Ziggy Milos said he’s looking for new buyers for the business, which operated at 1005 E. Dimond Blvd., No. 4. The new buyers may stick with the old menu, which included gyros, or they might take a different approach, Milos said.

“I am still getting texts (from customers) that they want the food,” he said. “So I hope they will keep the menu, but I am not sure. It will be up to the new owners.”

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or