Why I am Opening a Restaurant Named Dirty Skillet
By Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay
It isn’t without some reservation that I agreed to the name ‘Dirty Skillet’ for my new lodge’s restaurant. But now I can’t think of more fitting name, both to fit the history of the town of Hope where we are located and the personality of my family – immediate and extended.
In December, my husband and I bought our home’s neighboring property, Bear Creek Lodge. The space is quite possibly the most picturesque little piece of land in Hope, Alaska. Eight little log cabins sit on four acres nestled around Bear Creek Pond with Bear Creek running right through it. It feels something akin to Narnia. I have always loved this property, and I am still pinching myself that it is mine.
The only real needed work on the property was the restaurant. The folks we bought it from had a pretty sweet deal going. They included a prix fixe dinner for their guests with a 7 p.m. seating only. While that was great for them, it was not as profitable or as community-oriented as I want the place to be, as fine dining is not our family’s style.
I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, which is where my mom was born, which is where my grandparents were born, and which is where my great-grandparents pioneered to in 1920. My great-grandma died never admitting that she chased my great-grandpa up to Alaska. But by train and dog sled she arrived to Tent City.
My great-grandparents married and built a little home at the end of what is now the Park Strip in downtown Anchorage. That house with the bright red door still stands proudly. My grandpa and his siblings didn’t live fancy, and many of their meals were served over open flame and wood burning stove. My grandpa married an Alaskan woman, homesteaded in South Anchorage with their seven children, and raised their kids similarly.
Fast forward 60-some years, and you find me marrying a local Alaskan boy. Our dream was to run a seasonal business, never have kids, and travel each winter doing missions. We started a landscaping business, which evolved over time into a rather large company named Treeline Construction that operates year-round. We wound up doing foster care and adoption as well as having a number of kids of our own.
Six years ago and six kids in, we figured we were finally done in that department. But Anchorage was not where we wanted to raise our family. That is when we decided to move to Hope. We wanted a safe place that the kids could run free, learn to live off the land, climb trees, build forts and get off-grid.
Many people do not realize that Hope and its neighboring town of Sunrise were once the most populated cities in Alaska. There was even talk of making it the state capitol. Gold was discovered in Six Mile and Resurrection Creek even before the Yukon gold rush. New arrivals showed up daily by boat, foot and wagon. Some townsfolk decided they needed a name for the booming community, and determined that the name of the next person off the boat would be the name of the town. When 17-year old Percy Hope stepped foot off the boat, he had no idea that he was about to leave his legacy.
Little else is known about Percy Hope. His name seems to practically disappear from the history books. And that’s where Dirty Skillet comes in.
Our elaborated version of the rest of Percy’s life go as follows. After landing in town, Percy Hope tried his luck for many months in the waters of the Resurrection Creek and Six Mile Creek. Although he managed to pan a few gold flakes, he never did strike it rich. He did, however, gather enough gold to purchase an old, dirty skillet. With that skillet, Percy Hope made his name by providing hearty, heaping, home-style cooked foods for the other prospectors and their family, thus the new restaurant’s name Dirty Skillet.
Our goal is to create a place for breakfast, lunch and dinner that will warp our guests back 100 years to a time when miners and prospectors dominated Hope. Using era-specific building products and fixtures, visitors will experience what it felt like to truly be in early-Hope. The menu will be complete with items such as Dusty Road Rice Ball, Detonator Chili, Whiskey Bacon Mac and Cheese, and Kettle Bottom Sirloin.
We are pushing hard for the grand opening date of May 17, and we will remain open during the busy summer season through Sept. 30. Many of our employees are coming in from Anchorage and Outside, with our Executive Chef, April Barazza, joining us from Seattle and our Bar Tender, Shaun Oryall, coming up from Colorado.
We are braced for an epic summer of great food and drink and even greater company. If you find yourself down the 16-mile stretch of road that takes you into our community of Hope, Alaska, I invite you to sit down at Dirty Skillet and truly experience authentic Alaska.