Less than a month after Cathie Oliver and Walt Schuh purchased the Happy Valley Bar and Cafe near Ninilchik, they watched flames engulf their investment.
Before the devastating fire, the couple had plans in the works for remodeling the older building, but the plans were extinguished when the building caught fire the day after Thanksgiving 1999.
"And it burnt quick," said Oliver.
Like many fires, the result was tears and drowned hopes.
We built this for the locals. Tourists will get a lot out of it, but the locals will keep it running in the winter.'
--Cathie Oliver, owner,
Happy Valley Bar and Cafe
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"I sat there and cried. ... But life goes on," she said.
And life did go on for the couple as they made plans to rebuild the establishment soon after.
"(The fire) was a blessing in disguise," she said, recalling that the building, built about 40 years ago, needed rewiring because it was an "electrical nightmare."
The new Happy Valley Bar and Cafe, a 2,400-square-foot building on more than 6 acres, was built five feet from the old establishment.
The building came prefabricated and Hooligan construction completed the structure.
Oliver made sure large windows were installed to create a bright uplifting feel. The bar reopened Dec. 1, and the cafe opened later that month.
"I love it, it is real cheery," she said. "I am not even done."
Older Ninilchik photos line the walls, and the bare spots will soon be adorned with wildlife head mounts to create an Alaska ambience
Oliver said she has made snowmachine parking in the back and has future plans to rebuild the former general store by next summer and add an outside beer garden.
"It is like an extension of the restaurant and bar," Oliver said, adding that she has noticed beer gardens in Anchorage but not locally.
But what the quaint off-the-road bar and cafe does have now is good food, Oliver claims.
"We have two of the greatest cooks on the peninsula," she said.
Local residents who visited the cafe recently agreed.
"We had the very first coffee they served in here," said Walt Moore, who lives with his grandson, Seth Harris, approximately four miles from the business.
"Everything on the menu that we've had so far has been real good."
"They have real pleasant help," said Harris.
"Everything tastes pretty decent."
Oliver said they charbroil their meat and offer many specials, including prime rib dinners on Friday nights.
"We kept our menus small so we could have more specials," she said.
With the new owners, came new changes, including year round hours.
Oliver said the former owners, Ron and Franny Records split their time between Happy Valley and Mexico. Due to their dual homes, they only opened the cafe in the summer.
But Oliver runs the new cafe year-round and believes residents will keep her busy in the slow months.
"We built this for the locals," she said. "Tourists will get a lot out of it, but the locals will keep it running in the winter."
Situated eight miles between Ninilchik and Anchor Point, Oliver said the newer Happy Valley Bar and Cafe has been well received by locals.
"It is just thrilling the neighborhood," Oliver said. "They love it."
Oliver said she is pleased with her new investment.
"I think it turned out better than I could have imagined."
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