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 firstname.lastname@example.org with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.
Rafelitos: Ralfy Quepons said he was inspired to open this taqueria in South Anchorage because he had fond memories of eating at taco joints as a kid growing up in Tijuana.
Before creating Rafelitos, he traveled to different regions of Mexico trying the food and getting a feel for the latest trends, Quepons said.
It needs to be authentic, he said.
“I didn’t want to do just another taqueria. It had to be relevant to what’s going on with the Mexican culture right now,” Quepons said.
The open-kitchen diner is off 91st Avenue near King Street. It’s in the building that also houses Quepons’ German auto repair shop, a space formerly occupied by a Fire Island bakery location. Rafelitos is just steps from the Anchorage and King Street brewing companies.
The dishes are handmade and traditional, from the marinades to the meat that’s slow-roasted on the spit, or trompo. “Even though we are indoors, we wanted you to feel like you’re in a taco stand in Mexico somewhere,” Quepons said.
The corn tacos include the al pastor with grilled pork marinated in chile adobo sauce like they make it in Tijuana, he said. The suadero taco is made from slow-cooked brisket. The carne asada taco comes with top-round steak, Guadalajara-style, he said.
The salsas are handmade from Oaxaca-region recipes, he said. Other items include breakfast burritos and chocoflan, chocolate-flavored flan. Beverages created onsite as well include the sweet and creamy horchata made from white rice and cinnamon.
The art inside the high-ceilinged diner includes Aztec- and Mayan-inspired motifs, big murals of masked Mexican wrestlers and Day of the Dead skulls, and figurines of Mexican La Catrina skeletons.
Rafelitos is located at 160 W. 91st Ave. It’s open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and closed Sundays and Mondays.
Wooden Spoons Alaska: Anchorage’s craving for bagels prompted Amy Nicolaisen to start making them at the Anchorage Commercial Kitchen and Market in Spenard.
Nearly 300 bagels flew off the shelves last Saturday, her first day making them. She sold out in 2 1/2 hours.
“There’s just not enough bagels in this town,” she said.
Wooden Spoons Alaska is one of several small businesses now making bagels after Alaska Bagel Restaurant shut down during the pandemic, leaving a void in the bagel market.
Nicolaisen’s bagels can be picked up at the Anchorage Commercial Kitchen near 36th Avenue and Spenard Road, at 1300 W. 36th Ave.
Flavors include plain, onion and sesame-seed topped. Also, when customers on the Wooden Spoons Facebook page ask for a certain kind, she tries to prepare those, too.
On Thursday, Nicolaisen was in the site’s downstairs kitchen making her first egg bagels at a customer’s request. The eggs should make the dough extra soft, she said. She takes online orders at her website.
“People are so excited about bagels,” she said. “If I can make them what they want, let’s do it.”
She’s selling the bagels Wednesday through Saturday. The selling starts at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on Saturday, until they’re sold out.
Cult Classics: Two former managers at Target said they wanted more joy in life, and to be their own boss.
So Erica Gold and Ashley Logue quit their jobs and opened this coffee and pastry shop in downtown Anchorage in September.
Launching Cult Classics was a lot of work and sleepless nights, Gold said.
“It’s been so many hours, so many days, so many failed recipes and tears,” and, she added, “it’s also been so good.”
“We’re just so excited to see our vision come to life,” said Logue, who went to pastry school in Utah.
The two friends created Cult Classics out of a love for baking and films, they said. Flaky croissants and other pastries and items are made in-house daily.
The movie-themed menu features fare such as the Monty Python sandwich with pulled pork, ham and Swiss cheese, the Goonies Grilled Cheese, The Shining lemonade and the Footloose peanut butter bar.
Cult Classics is located inside Peterson Tower at 510 L St., off the lobby. It’s open on weekdays at 8 a.m.
Wild Smoke: Shauna Donnelly started out making barbecue sauce for her family and at public cookouts, drizzling it on meat when she helmed the grill.
A fan who badly wanted to buy her blackberry bourbon sauce inspired her to go into business. Donnelly launched Wild Smoke from her home kitchen six years ago, selling at outdoor markets and later becoming a wholesale supplier for shops in town.
Last month, she opened her own shop in downtown Anchorage, at Sixth Avenue and A Street, in the building that was formerly Pizza Hut at 118 E. Sixth Ave.
In addition to her products, Donnelly sells rotating lunch specials, like chipotle chicken chili one day or pulled-pork sliders with caramelized onions the next. Desserts have included bourbon caramel peach cobbler.
Her sauces and rubs are sold there too, individually and in gift boxes. The sauces include the Spicy Raz, made with raspberries, the Pomegranate Mesquite, and Honey Hickory.
With her wholesale business keeping her busy, Donnelly is open Thursday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Several smokers are at the site, and she plans to host cooking and barbecue classes. “We’ll do a variety of classes on anything from low carb and healthy eating, basic barbecue for people that have never used a smoker in your life, all the way up to more advanced classes on like how to do a pork belly or brisket,” she said.
The Happy Mushroom: Nathan Turnbull’s indoor mushroom farm has a new home in the Taku/Campbell area off East 73rd Avenue.
The Happy Mushroom also has a new subscription service. Customers can order mushrooms for pickup weekly or every two weeks, or for one-time purchases, Turnbull said. They can be picked up at Anchorage Greens, a hydroponic lettuce grower, at 1207 E. 73rd Ave.
Turnbull said to grow his business, he needed a site that’s larger than his home, where he’d grown mushrooms in recent years.
“Plus, my wife wanted me out of the house,” he said with a laugh.
The Happy Mushroom mainly grows varieties of oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane. They’re typically used for cooking. “A simple saute with salt and pepper and butter is awesome,” he said.
The mushrooms grow indoors from special bags that contain sterilized sawdust. They’re supplemented with crushed barley for additional nutrients.
Turnbull also sells mushroom-based products such as seasonings and a tincture, a natural remedy believed to improve brain function, he said. The mushrooms are available at a new Monday market featuring a few other food growers. It runs from 3-7 p.m. at Organic Oasis at 2610 Spenard Road.
Chickadee Coffee: Shane Larson and his wife, Caroline Murphy, opened this coffee shop at 14th Avenue and G Street near downtown Anchorage. It’s in the spot that once housed the original Fire Island bakery.
Chickadee Coffee was created after the building’s landlord said the South Addition neighborhood really wanted a coffee shop, said Larson, also a heavy equipment technician for the Municipality of Anchorage.
His wife owns Caroline’s Caramel Co., formerly Sweet Caroline’s, which makes caramel candy and sauces. Caroline’s is moving into the commercial kitchen in the building and will sell its products at Chickadee, Larson said.
Coffee shop manager Mia Hinchberger said neighborhood residents and others are “so happy” the business has opened. They have an early bird special from 7-9 a.m. on weekdays, with all coffee drinks half price, she said.
The shop also sells teas, smoothies and other drinks, salads made by Sweet Caribou, soups made by Altura Bistro, and Alaska-made gifts such as Alaskalux candles from Kodiak.
It’s open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 8-3 p.m. on weekends. They plan to add outdoor seating in the future, Larson said.
The Frozen Flamingo Market: Yvette Courchaine opened this shop in Spenard to give Alaska crafters and artists a spot to sell their work, along with other small businesses.
Several vendors sell their wares at Frozen Flamingo, such as jewelry, art, dish towels, stickers, prints, key chains, hot sauces, wool hats and tinctures.
Courchaine, recently retired from the University of Alaska, also makes soaps and lotions for sale there.
The Frozen Flamingo gives cottage-industry entrepreneurs a year-round sales floor, she said. They rent space by the foot. Courchaine said it can be a struggle when craft makers rely on summer markets and holiday events.
The store is located in the building at 3400 Spenard Road, in Suite 100 where Riehl Sew N’ Vac was long located. It’s closed Tuesday, open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. otherwise.
FashionPact: This boutique thrift shop that donates nearly half its sales to customer-chosen charities has opened another spot near South Anchorage. It once again has two locations.
The new site replaces the original FashionPact near downtown Anchorage that was destroyed last winter by heavy snows that buckled the roof.
The stores sell donated, high-quality apparel and household items, said owner Brittani Clancey. Since opening in 2021, FashionPact has donated more than $200,000 to charities in Alaska, she said.
The new store opened last month at Lake Otis and 68th Avenue, at 2520 E. 68th. The other location is in the King’s Row mall at Dimond Boulevard and King Street.
Haute Quarter Grill: This downtown Anchorage restaurant that served dishes like smoked salmon fettuccini and spicy chicken gnocchi closed last month after nearly 25 years in business.
Chef and owner Alex Perez said there’s good news for customers. He expects to sell the restaurant by year’s end. It should reopen with the same menu and many longtime staff, he said.
Perez said he’s 60 and ready to retire, though it’s been a record year for business.
“It’s been an amazing, amazing adventure and I’m absolutely so grateful that so many great people have come through our doors and helped us to continue to operate,” he said, referring to clients and workers.
He started in restaurants washing dishes at age 16. He moved up in the industry in Alaska before going into business. During the pandemic when restaurants struggled, he shut down his Table 6 restaurant in Midtown Anchorage so Haute Quarter could survive.
He originally opened Haute Quarter in 1999 in Eagle River, moving it to Anchorage in 2014, he said.
He and his wife and co-owner, Kimberly Perez, plan to travel and spend time with family between Alaska and Texas, he said.
“We’re looking forward to our future and can’t wait to see what comes our way,” he said.