Words by Mariah DeJesus-Remaklus.
About 11 years ago, Laile Fairbairn and Jo Ann Asher had a vision. They wanted a family-friendly space where a mom could have her drink while the kids ate good food, a gathering place for “casual fine dining.” At the time, Fairbairn already owned Snow City Cafe and Asher had Sacks Cafe, both located in downtown Anchorage, and they figured they should do something different in another part of town.
“I used to go to Bear Tooth like, three times a week with my family,” Fairbairn explained. “Some friends said that it’d be great to have another restaurant in Spenard… So I reached out to [Asher], who’s now my friend, and said ‘Well, here’s a project,’ and on New Year’s Day 2008, she said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Hogg Brothers, a block from Bear Tooth Theatrepub, then went up for sale, and for the rest of 2008, the two women designed and created what would later become Spenard Roadhouse, which celebrated ten years in February 2019.
Fairbairn emphasized that there were different approaches to the process, including a perspective given by Asher’s daughter, Sage. While Fairbairn had been in her late thirties with two young children and Asher wanted a place with good food for herself and her husband. Sage Asher was younger and “on top of trends.” These various angles lent a hand in curating the vision for the new restaurant.
“It just kind of worked,” Fairbairn said.
The Roadhouse’s website describes it as a restaurant and bar that serves “contemporary comfort food.” The menu offers a variety of items from fried calamari to nachos for appetizers; quinoa, Caesar and Mediterranean shrimp salads; an “old school” BLT and avocado melt in sandwiches; classic fish and chips or jambalaya for those adventurous with spice and rice; and, of course, pizza from plain cheese to cajun chicken. There are also several brunch and dessert menus along with picks for the kids, and the bar hosts a number of wines, whiskies and cocktails.
The kitchen has focused on creating menus that cater to a range of guests, and in the past few years, that has come to include those with food allergies. It’s important for the staff to be thorough and provide alternatives for people, Shawna Calt, bar manager, said. Several items are gluten-free, and there are options to add gluten-free or vegan ingredients, such as sesame-ginger vinaigrette dressing for the house salad.
“People come in because they trust us,” she added.
But understanding guests’ needs is only a small part of what the Roadhouse staff has done to provide for the community. Calt and front house manager Lois Kendrick have also been around since the restaurant’s beginnings and are proud of how far it has come, especially since a major part of the business has been building relationships with and giving back to the community, such as their Tots for Toys gift drive where people bring in children’s gifts and are given tater tots.
The Roadhouse also gives “tots” away during major elections; guests just have to sport their “I Voted” stickers to earn their plate.
Creating relationships with Anchorage and its locals goes behind the scenes, too. Kendrick noted that the chefs work with local farmers as an effort to support local businesses.
Fairbairn is now the president of Locally Grown Properties, which manages the Roadhouse, South Restaurant and Coffeehouse (of which she is the general manager), Snow City Cafe and the Crush Bistro and bottle shops. To her, the Roadhouse’s guests have made the restaurant their own. Though the staff has worked to keep up with and adapt to industry trends while staying true to the original vision, “guests help figure out how it’s going to be.”
There are currently no big plans for the Roadhouse except to keep contributing to the community and making good food. Calt said the kitchen is planning the new summer menu, and Kendrick is grateful that the restaurant has been fortunate to still be going strong after a decade.
“We hope to be a part of the Spenard neighborhood for as long as I can see,” Fairbairn said.