While he despises the word, “foodie,” Luke Thibodeau appreciates delicious cuisine and has a vision to bring an elevated dining experience to Kenai.
After 18 months of design and construction of a new restaurant, Thibodeau and his wife Naomi Thibodeau are in the final stages of preparation before the grand opening. The Flats Bistro will open Friday, June 6 located on the Kenai River Flats on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
The Flats plan to offer smaller, yet more flavorful tapas-style dishes that focus on fresh local produce and seafood, said Chef Quintin Mapes, a Cordon Bleu graduate from Michigan who most recently worked at Orso in Anchorage. Along with Kenneth Hynes, who worked at a Michelin-rated restaurant in Napa Valley, they will incorporate local farms in their dishes. The crew will bring in whole animals from Tustumena Smokehouse, butcher them in house, grind bratwurst and make hand-made pasta.
“I like to call it elevated Alaskan cuisine,” Mapes said. “We are going to do everything a little different than anywhere else. We will be able to tell you where most of our food comes from on the menu and try to do everything in house with the smallest amount of frozen ingredients possible.”
With close proximity to the Kenai River, The Flats seafood menu will feature salmon, sablefish, king crab, razor clams and a ceviche taco appetizer. Mapes said sablefish is a meaty protein fish that will replace halibut on the menu.
Mapes previously worked with Thibodeau before moving to Napa Valley to work with Hynes. About two years ago, Thibodeau contacted him about opening a restaurant and the plans have been in motion ever since, he said.
While the wood facade and stone exterior of the building is completed, inside staff and workers from Batir Construction are painting and putting the final touches on their rustic modern design of hardwood floors and brick walls. A curved bar with a dark wood-stained top was built by Stix's Woodworks. Thibodeau said general contractor Doug Baxter has done a tremendous job with his attention to detail.
“We will have a more beautiful building than any restaurant in town,” Thibodeau said. “We wanted to get away from the commercial feel and do this from scratch. Every square inch has been thought over.”
Large bay windows on the back wall let plenty of light into the dinning area, which can seat 76 people. In the front near the entrance is a stage for live music. Local artist Paul Tornow, who designed the moose sculpture at Kenai Peninsula College, will have his art displayed on the walls. The back deck can seat 30 people with views of the Cook Inlet and mountains.
The bar will have 12 taps of Alaskan micro-brews with local suds from Kassik’s and Kenai River Brewery along with Belgian triples and a variety of IPAs like Twister Creek from Denali Brewing Co. and Sockeye Red from Midnight Sun Brewery. The bar will stock a selection of Old World European wine by the glass.
“I have been a bartender around here for a long time and I think I know what people want,” Thibodeau said. “(Kassiks and Kenai River breweries) are amazing, but there is so much more. (Mapes) would not put a plate on the window that doesn’t taste good and I will not serve any drink out of a box.”
Thibodeau grew up in the house next door and he said he originally planned to build a home on the 1.5-acre property, but decided to sell his house in Kenai, move in with his parents and open a restaurant. His wife, Naomi Thibodeau, who has marketing and advertising experience, will operate that portion of the business while he concentrates on front-of-house operations.
The Flats will start out dinner only for at least the first month to work out all the kinks before opening for lunch. In July Thibodeau hopes to open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. He said half of the restaurant will be on reservations but still accept walk-ins.
“We do not want people waiting on a bench for half an hour waiting for a table,” he said. “We want people to come here on a date and know they can get a table so long as they plan ahead. We are also on the bike path and don’t want to be too formal.”
Thibodeau said he expects a busy summer but is already looking forward to the winter when business slows down and he can book live music.
“Opening day will be one of my favorite days ever,” he said. “We are here out of passion and I would like to make a living doing this.”
Mapes said The Flats will be a place for the community to come together and have a great time.
“It’s not just a place to get food and fill their stomachs,” he said. “People will come here to have good conversations with good people. The entire experience from service to food, beer and wine will hopefully flow beautifully throughout the entire restaurant.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org