Stephanie

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.

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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.”

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Photo by Victoria Petersen

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.

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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

$$

****

 

 

 

The Spenard Food Truck Carnival is now open for 2017 summer season

By Victoria Petersen

Hot dogs? Cupcakes? Kimchi fried rice? With half a dozen or so food trucks lined up under the windmill, you’re bound to find something that will feed your appetite. The Spenard Food Truck Carnival, a weekly carnival featuring local food trucks and fire dancers, opened today for the 2017 summer season.

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The carnival will be up and running every Thursday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. until the end of the summer in the Koot’s parking lot, 2435 Spenard Road.

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Photos by Young Kim.