Hungry for business

Central peninsula has appetite for restaurants

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2006


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  Great Alaska Pizza Co. is preparing a restaurant in Soldotna. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Dustin Reid positions equipment Saturday inside the new Carl's Jr. restaurant under construction in Kenai. He said Carl's was one of his favorite places to eat in Anchorage and was excited to go to work at one here.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

As an area known for summer tourism — at least during the salmon season — it comes as little surprise that the central Kenai Peninsula offers more variety for restaurant-goers than communities of a similar size in the Lower 48. Alaskans’ love of seafood probably helps, too.

A flurry of restaurant activity on the central peninsula recently begs a question, though: just how hungry are we?

According to Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker, we may not be much hungrier than before. Restaurants come and go and often change hands, he said.

The Great Alaska Pizza Co., for example, will open Tuesday in a building that shares a parking lot with Soldotna’s Peninsula Center Mall — the same location where Godfather’s Pizza once was.

According to franchisee Cherie Logan of Fairbanks, the company had looked to the Godfather’s location since last summer, but attempts to bring a Lower 48 franchisee to Alaska to operate the restaurant fell through. At that point Logan, who was a controller for Great Alaska, decided to make the leap to franchisee herself.

“It just felt like it would be a tremendously fun place to do business,” Logan said.


Great Alaska Pizza Co. is preparing a restaurant in Soldotna.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Other shifts in ownership are changing the restaurant landscape, as well. Tides Inn Burger and Brew closed last year, but will soon open for full service dining as The Crossing. Growth like this isn’t quite the same as expansion, Boedeker said.

“The Crossing is more of an upgrade, and you have Godfather’s — that’s just being replaced,” Boedeker said. “Have you had an increase? No, but you have had an expansion of services.”

Odie’s Restaurant in Soldotna is another example of that sort of expansion. The soup and sandwich shop on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna was called Coffee Concepts last year, under different owners. Odie’s, which took its place in October 2005, is a similar sort of business, but serves sandwiches on homemade bread and offers a variety of baked goods.

The picture for Kenai is similar. The Spur Highway site previously occupied by Burger King will soon open as a Carl’s Jr. March 12 is the scheduled opening of that store, which is one of many Carl’s Jr. franchises throughout Southcentral owned and operated by J & D Restaurants.

According to J & D co-owner Debra Kin, the fast-food joint in Kenai is part of her company’s long-term strategy and one of what she hopes will be several stores on the peninsula.

“It’s always been in our plan,” Kin said. “When that (Burger King) property opened up, we took it as our opportunity.”

Kin is not alone in looking to Kenai for expansion. Two Soldotna restaurants are opening locations in Kenai in the coming months.

Acapulco Restaurant, a Mexican eatery on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna, doesn’t have the parking space at its current location to accommodate the 20 or so tables owner Juan Rodriguez likes to have available. The Soldotna location has 12. The new restaurant in Kenai — also on the Spur, next to Allen and Peterson Cooking and Appliance Center — will have 20 tables.

“I cannot grow in Soldotna,” Rodriguez said.

The opening of The Crossing factored into his decision to go west with Acapulco, too.

“A lot of businesses are opening up in Soldotna.”

The new Acapulco should open around mid-April.

Jersey Subs co-owner Kathy Musick said the timeframe for her restaurant’s first Kenai sub shop is April, as well, and fans of the oversized sandwiches can look for the sign next to the Thai Lotus restaurant on Willow street. There are Jersey Subs locations in Kasilof and Soldotna.

The old KFC building in Kenai recently was permitted by the city for renovations that will transform the former chicken shack into an Oriental restaurant, according to the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission. Calls to the property’s purchasers were not returned.

Soldotna has tasty treats coming further down the road, too, although the details are sketchy. In June, Cold Stone Creamery was granted a permit to build next to Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, but no opening date is set for the popular ice cream chain’s peninsula parlor.

Boedeker said a brewery, similar to the Homer Brewery, also has a permit to build in Soldotna.

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