By Victoria Petersen

With about $150 to her name, 21-year-old Stephanie Johnson flew to Alaska from Denver on a one way ticket. It was the summer of 2001.

“I did the classic 21-year-old thing where I moved here with no money and no plan,” Johnson said.

Arriving in July of that year, Stephanie began working as a lead server at the brand new Bear Tooth Grill. Today Stephanie is managing the Bear Tooth. A restaurant she wanted to work at since she first saw the ad for the serving job in the newspaper.

“This was the job I wanted, working in the grill. I’ve always loved food and I always wanted to work in a restaurant,” Johnson said.


Photo by Victoria Petersen

Johnson was hired at the Grill before it was ready. While waiting to start her job at the Bear Tooth, Johnson worked at a Spenard coffee shop for about a month called Best Little Coffee House in Anchorage. The coffee hut was Johnson’s first glimpse at the neighborhood.


“It was an amazing little Spenard fixture. So many characters that lived in and around there came through there,” Johnson said.

A few years after working at the Bear Tooth Johnson and a couple friends had the idea to open a handmade shop and gallery. Before they could make a business plan Johnson and her friend found themselves jumping on the opportunity to rent the tower (that is also owned by the Bear Tooth) that stands near the intersection of Spenard Road and Northern Lights Blvd. They had no formal business plan and funded the rent and expenses out of their own pockets.

“We knew the tower in that building was for rent and we fell in love with it. We got the keys and it was a nightmare. It was a wreck. We kind of went about it all the wrong way, but it worked for us,” Johnson said.

In 2005 Dos Manos, a funk-tional gallery, was born.

Photo by Victoria Petersen

The tower was many different businesses before it became the home of the Dos Manos art gallery, including a florist shop, a travel agency with desks on each landing, a tailor shop and a gift shop. A customer even came in and told Johnson that the tower was once Brown Jug’s corporate headquarters.

Over the years Johnson has called Spenard home. Living in homes all across the neighborhood. Today Johnson only works and plays in Spenard. Johnson calls Airport Heights home.

“Airport Heights has a funky feeling itself. It’s changing a lot, kind of like Spenard is changing,” Johnson said.

In her nearly 16 years in Spenard, Johnson has noticed change in the neighborhood.

“When I think back on it from when I first started working here, I think it’s changed a lot,” Johnson said. “I hope for Spenard it continues to be a place where there’s a little room for everyone.”

Johnson said that Spenard has a sort of funk to it that can’t be found in a lot of other neighborhoods in Anchorage.

“It’s quirky. It’s quirky as fuck. I think that’s the best part of [Spenard],” Johnson said.

Johnson encourages everyone who is visiting the neighborhood to walk around and explore what Spenard has to offer.

“I hope that Spenard becomes more of a walking place. That’s one thing that’s always blown me away. It’s a different world when you’re walking. There’s a lot of great little businesses and places to visit that you don’t see when you are whizzing by in your car. There are things to see,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her favorite part about working and living in Spenard was the variety of people in and out of the neighborhood.

“In a small space there’s a lot of variety and density in the people that live and work in this area. I don’t think we all connect as easily with each other as we could, like if we were all walking we would be looking into each other’s eyes a little more,” Johnson said. “There are so many different types of people just doing their own thing in this area and I love that. It feels more real to me.”

Photo by Victoria Petersen

Snapshots of Spenard: Local photographer shares her passion of film photography

By Victoria Petersen

Whether you’ve seen her working at Anchorage Cycle or walking around the neighborhood taking photos of abandoned roadside fridges, you’ve probably seen Darcy Stein around Spenard.

Photo courtesy of Darcy Stein.

Stein, originally from New York, has called Alaska home for over five years. It was moving to Alaska and enrolling in a photography class at UAA where Stein found her passion for film.

“This was me finding my passion. Finding more things that I love and wanna learn about,” Stein said. “I don’t think I would have found my love for photography if I stayed in New York.”

Stein sells prints on her online store, does various photo gigs and shares her film photos on her popular Instagram. Since learning about photography through UAA’s film class, which is no longer offered at UAA, Stein has chosen to shoot film exclusively.

“I don’t shoot any digital photography at all. I think about getting a digital camera, I go back and forth, but I just connect so much to film photography,” Stein said. “I look at digital photography and I just don’t feel the soul of it. Film photography is so soulful. It’s so warm. I just feel so much more connected to it.”

One of Stein’s many muses for her photography is Spenard, where Stein calls home.

“It’s got a lot of characters, it’s got a lot of heart and soul,” Stein said. “It’s not just your regular kind of neighborhood where everyone looks the same and all the houses are the same— just cookie cutter. I don’t like that.”

Photo courtesy of Darcy Stein.

Stein believes Spenard’s edginess and quirk is charming, but isn’t for everyone.

“It’s just so kooky. I love it. It’s spunky and charming in its own way. It’s not for everyone. My dad came to visit me and he’s like ‘Why do you live here’,” Stein said. “I’ve never felt afraid to walk my dog or whatever, but it wouldn’t be for everyone.”

Photo courtesy of Darcy Stein.
Photo courtesy of Darcy Stein.

Stein knew she wanted to live in Alaska after she came up with her boyfriend, now husband, as he interviewed for a job, that would eventually bring the couple to the last frontier.

“I walked from Valley of the Moon to downtown down the street. Some man from another country approached me and told me this sob story about how he wanted me to marry him for a green card. He told me he was an accountant and that he could support me and give me a good life,” Stein said. “After that I went to where we were staying and told my husband, like, we are moving here. I told him this place would be a really interesting experience.”

After moving to Alaska Stein equated Anchorage’s many neighborhoods to the boroughs of New York City.

“Spenard is Brooklyn. It’s kooky, but up and coming and all the hipsters want to live here,” Stein said.

Stein’s photos were featured in an art installation at the Church of Love. The installation was a collection of images of Spenard from multiple photographers in the community. The photos were projected onto the wall of the building next to the Church of Love.

“Only in Alaska would there be photos projected on a building,” Stein said. “I like that randomness.”

Graduating this May, Stein will be receiving a degree in culinary arts. Stein said she will be looking to put her work out there more in the future to share with the neighborhood.

Visit Stein’s online print shop  and instagram to see more images.

Print shop:

Instagram: @ardhachandrasana


By Victoria Petersen

You may recognize Duke Russell’s paintings if you’ve ever eaten at Spenard Roadhouse or perused Dos Manos. His work reflects the neighborhood of Spenard and beyond.

“Even though we get the reputation of having prostitutes and nightclubs, Spenard divorce and all that, I want to correct that attitude and find beauty in things we pass by everyday,” Russell said. “It’s kind of a shit show, but it’s our shit show.”

Photo courtesy of Duke Russell.


In 1969 Russell’s father got a job on the slope. Left to his own devices, young Duke would venture from their apartment above Darwin’s Theory and explore downtown Anchorage. When it was time for his father to leave Alaska for his home in Texas, Duke decided to plant his roots in Anchorage.

“When I was 19 I decided that this was where I wanted to be and that this was my home. I felt like I did have opportunity, even though it took a long time to get the whole art thing up,” Russell said.

Russell started a family in Spenard and sought to give his children the stability he missed out on as a child.

“I have a couple kids and they have lived in the same house all their lives, they have lifelong friends. That’s something I wanted to give my kids,” Russell said. “My dad moved around skipping rent and I was sick and tired of it. He did the best he could I guess, with what he had to work with. I admire him for having the courage to come up here in the first place. My life would have been very different.”

Duke graduated from West High in 1977 and worked at the Bike Shop in Spenard while building his art career.

In the 90s Russell helped film production teams make high-budget commercials. This gave Russell a unique skill set he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“By doing that work I was able to slowly build tools and expertise that’s gotten me where I am today,” Russell said.

Russell, who has lived in Spenard for over 20 years, was first inspired by the neighborhood after taking his children to the library at the museum to look at Ward Wells photography of old Anchorage. Wells photographed local businesses of mid-1900s Anchorage.

“All of this is recorded and was a great window into this big question that I had after working at the bike shop. I noticed this real attitude with Spenard kind of a ‘Brooklyn good-morning-to-you’, very colorful, very honest, very down to earth folks,” Russell said. “Anchorage was a federally designed city. Literally, here’s the packet, you know? With charters, all kinds of rules… Spenard had none of that. They liked it that way and that’s what caters to this really interesting microcosm,” Russell said.

Russell notes that Spenard’s many local and niche businesses give the neighborhood its flair and uniquenessb4ff614365ea5da6c8ef3e636c313d19

“Within a 500 yard distance you have a gigantic comic book store, a spinning class, third world gifts… all these unique businesses that don’t really exist anywhere else in this concentration.” Russell said.

Photographers, writers and other artist types have been flocking to Duke’s neighborhood in the past few years.

“In my neighborhood you could call it a gentrification of artists and poets and writers that have moved in. Not strictly because I’m there, but we’re all there and there’s even more of us,” Russell said.

Russell has experienced very little crime in the two decades he’s lived in the neighborhood and is trying to trample Spenard’s seedy image through art and community.

“A guy tried to steal a bike out of my bike barn last fall. It was kind of the first time anything like that has happened. It’s rare, Russell said. “Although when I hear the news and the shots at night, you wonder. It is a little bit of a chameleon sort of thing where it sort of turns into this darker place in the dark. I am sort of concerned about that, but I think it’s happening everywhere.”

Whether it’s giving a warm place to stay to those who are stuck in the cold or a place to use the restroom, Russell hopes to build a better community and neighborhood by helping those who need it most.

“I’ve befriended a lot of those folks and have helped them when it’s really cold out, but you know, I’m not in a position to turn my studio into a warm-up center. I have and I have enjoyed the company,” Russell said.

Russell’s idea to build a warm-up center would give homeless individuals a place to clean up, use the restroom and shower.

“I’m working on some things to try and turn around some things in my own way. I’ve been working on an idea like a makeover center,” Russell said. “I do think people deserve minimal amenities and if we can’t find them housing at least get them a place to shower or go to the bathroom, so it’s not on the front door step of my studio.”

With many friends and connections in the community, Russell is in the know of neighborhood happenings.

“I’ve got dirt on pretty much everyone. If my son broke a bottle in a parking lot I would be hearing about it in thirty minutes,” Russell said. “I’m a very private person, but I can be very social. I know a lot of people.”

Beyond painting and graphic art, Russell has helped open Humpy’s and design Flattop Bar and Williwaw Social. Russell also enjoys different creative outlets like music and cooking.

“I love music, I love writing music, playing. I don’t take it super seriously, but I practice at it. I love cooking. I just feel like you really need to know how to do these things. What a great survival tool, to know how to cook, to know how to cook for other people,” Russell said.

Currently Russell is working on a graphic novel as well as turning his and his wife’s tandem bicycle into a mobile chef’s trailer.

“My wife and I have a tandem [bike] and I’m thinking about turning it into a chefs trailer… you can go places where cars can’t go and have a feast for 20 people,” Russell said.

Catch Russell’s work at Spenard Roadhouse, Dos Manos, his website or other places around the neighborhood.


Rocks, relatives and regalia: Neighborhood jewelry maker finds inspiration in family past

By Victoria Petersen

Cleo Anderson has always been told she’s like her great-grandmother Jean. Granny Jean, as she knows her as, has been the key inspiration in Cleo’s new jewelry line Molly & Bella. The line made its trunk show debut last month at The Beauty Room, just down the street from Anderson’s home in Spenard.

Anderson in front of her jewelry at the Molly & Bella trunk show. Photo courtesy of Cleo Anderson

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s jewelry collection, Cleo channels granny Jean’s style into the pieces she makes for Molly & Bella.

“Lately my inspiration for jewelry is my great-grandma. She had the most amazing jewelry collection ever. I remember as a kid I would go through all her jewelry and I thought it was like heaven,” Anderson said. “She was very glamorous. She liked all the really rich colors.”

After her great-grandmother’s passing in 2013, Anderson inherited granny Jean’s vast jewelry collection.

“I love heirlooms. My great-grandma’s jewelry is some of my most prized possessions,” Anderson said.

Anderson first started making jewelry when her mom taught her as kid. The passion for jewelry making came back to Anderson five years ago after she took a job at Beyond Beads, a local bead store and boutique. At Beyond Beads Cleo sold jewelry and taught jewelry making classes onsite.


Rocks, stones, gems and precious metals have always been intriguing to Cleo. A fascination that stemmed from visits to granny Jean’s in Spokane, Washington.

“I’ve always really liked rocks. My great-grandma and grandma lived in Spokane, Washington and there was a rock shop down the street and I would beg them to take me,” Anderson said. “Because of her lapis is one of my favorite stones.”

For Cleo, learning about the stones and their historical and cultural background is half the fun in making unique pieces that hold deeper meanings and stories.

“I like using stones that I know have cool historical context. Like the Egyptians used lapis a lot, King Tut’s sarcophagus had a lot of lapis in it,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of fun mythology around rocks. I’ll find a really special stone and then I’ll never use it because it needs to be amazing and it needs to look so good. It needs to be special.”

Molly & Bella features necklaces, earrings, hair pieces, crowns and more. Majority of the pieces feature unique materials like turquoise, lapis, peridot and even coral.

Cleo describes her jewelry preferences as bold and big, but Molly & Bella’s jewelry can cater to the more delicate jewelry lover as well.

“I like really big jewelry, but I’ve been making simpler ones that [granny jean] would have worn, that can be used as heirlooms,” Anderson said.

“I think that jewelry is a very personal thing. Everyone’s style is very different when it comes to jewelry,” Anderson said.

Finding good quality stones and materials that are ethically sourced is a top priority for Anderson.

“I like to get a lot of my materials from the Bead Shack, just down the street. I know the owner is very conscious of ethics,” Anderson said.

Cleo is a receptionist at The Beauty Room where she manages the front desk, works retail and occasionally does makeup application. The Beauty Room, located on Northern Lights Blvd. and Spenard Road is part boutique, part salon. Anderson also runs a small photography business, Cleo Jane Photography.

“Everyone at The Beauty Room is really supportive and really encouraging,” Anderson said.

Molly & Bella jewelry can be found at The Beauty Room and online through Molly & Bella’s Instagram. Custom orders and inquires are welcome by email through

Cleo wearing one of her handmade crowns. Photo courtesy of Cleo Anderson.



Born and raised Spenard: Turnagain Mud Co.

By Victoria Petersen

Inspired by her neighborhood of Spenard, Taylor Thompson is using social media and a pair of needles to create fun and functional Alaskan knitwear.

What began as a tool for relaxation in law school, knitting has since grown into a profitable hobby for Taylor. _DSC2310

“I’ve knit for years, and I started doing this in law school to de-stress,” Thompson said.

Growing since 2014, Turnagain Mud Co. sells locally-made knitwear. Hats, gloves and ‘fishy headbands’ are among their most popular selling items. The ‘fishy headbands’ were the first item Taylor sold and was inspired by her love, and Alaskan’s love for fishing

“My future brother in law was on the deadliest catch. He’s a commercial fisherman all year round. When I was in law school I was really broke and I decided I was going to knit everyone something for Christmas because I had no money,” Thompson said.

“I didn’t know what he would like, except for something with fish. So I created a salmon headband. I made one and everyone liked them so I started selling them and it’s evolved from there.”

Since then Taylor has created merchandise for Blue and Gold board shop, dog mushing teams and other local groups and businesses.

Many of Turnagain Mud Co.’s hats come with a real fur “poof” on top, giving the hat Alaskan flair.

“I take scraps from furriers who would otherwise just throw it away. I’m trying to up-cycle,” Thompson said.

Growing up in the same Spenardian neighborhood her dad grew up in, West side is close to Taylor’s heart.


“I loved growing up in Spenard. It’s so close to everything. If you can’t do it on the West Side then why do it?” Thompson said.

“I would go on runs over by the lagoon, and by runs I mean power walks. I would walk the coastal trail and those are the Turnagain mud flats so it really resonates because it’s here, in my neighborhood,” Thompson said.

Thompson jokes that she wants to become a knitting mogul, creating unique Alaskan designs and eventually producing her own yarn.

“If I could just knit all day it would be super fun. I want to make this my real job eventually,” Thompson said. “I want to get it to the point where I can hire local Alaskans to knit for me.”

Currently Taylor designs, knits and runs her entire business by herself. _DSC2322

Taylor, a recent graduate of law school is working for her dad in the family business. Taylor hopes to help young people, like herself, who want to start up new local businesses.

“I want to help young entrepreneurs start businesses, so get them set-up legally with all their contracts and paperwork and filing of LLC’s and stuff like that,” Thompson said.

Custom orders and inquires can be made through Turnagain Mud Co.’s Instagram, Etsy or website.

Ramen House by Saijo highlights Japan’s Southern flavors

By Victoria Petersen

Sitting all alone on the corner of Fireweed Lane and C St. is Ramen House by Saijo. A fairly inconspicuous building, one wouldn’t normally notice it if it weren’t for the packed parking lot during the lunch rush. The stand-alone building has been many things in the last few years. Most recently a Mexican restaurant and prior to that a pho restaurant.

Any Anchorage ramen experience I’ve had has been ruined by a 2014 trip to Japan where I sampled ramen dishes from multiple places across the country. It’s not that Anchorage ramen is bad, it’s just that Japanese ramen is so good. However, Ramen House by Saijo came pretty close to the Japanese ramen of my memory.


When we walked in we noticed the dining room was much more spacious than we had anticipated. When we sat down my dining partner ordered the shio ramen ($13) and I ordered miso ramen ($14). My dining partner, Jon, had never had ramen this way before-only the packaged kind. He had a true ramen awakening. He finished every last drop of broth in his bowl and talked about what he was going to get next time he came. The miso ramen was full of flavor, vegetables and lots of noodles- just how I like it. In comparison, the miso ramen had more vegetables and more variety of vegetables than the shio or shoyu ramen.

The next time I visited I ordered teriyaki chicken ($16), chicken karrage ($8) and pork curry katsu ($15.50). The terriyaki chicken comes out on a sizzling fajita-like cast iron platter. The dish is served with a small cup of white rice. Overall the dish was very flavorful, saucy and filling. The chicken karrage came out extremely hot, so by the time we could eat it our main dishes were already being served. Once they were cooled enough to eat, the bite sized fried garlic chicken bits were perfect before and in-between our meal. Note that the garlic flavor is very strong.

A coworker of mine and I went on one occasion. I ordered the miso ramen and she, being adventurous, ordered the cheese ramen ($13). Made with mozzarella, the cheese combines well with the noodles and kind of becomes a part of the dish rather than just a garnish. She said she liked it and the flavors worked well together. If you are fan of cheese and ramen, I’d recommend giving it a try.

The menu is limited to a few Japanese style appetizers, ramen, teriyaki and katsu. But what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality.

Contact(907) 272-2016

Location: 149 E. Fireweed Lane, Anchorage, AK

Hours: Noon-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday