A Trio Of Treats: Fire Island Bakeshop Opens in South Anchorage
By Robert Foran III
And then there were three.
Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop’s flagship location is near downtown Anchorage and its second site opened in the residential neighborhood of Airport Heights in 2015. The bakery’s next expansion toward the city’s southern boundaries is off 91st and King Streets.
The new opening that occurred Aug. 10, 2018 means Fire Island’s aromas of fresh baked breads, pizza and other delights should be traveling further south, encouraging residents from Hillside, Rabbit Creek, Indian and Girdwood to venture in for a taste of their widely recognized cooking.
Fire Island Manager Jason Croft says, “We have had requests to add locations everywhere from Seattle to Nome, Sitka, Palmer and Eagle River. Our business vision, however, is to be an Anchorage, Alaska bakery.”
With that vision in mind, management considered its options regarding how and when to expand in Anchorage, waiting for the right opportunity to open a location on the south side of town.
“When we met Gabe Fletcher from Anchorage Brewing Company in 2017 and heard about his plans for development on 91st Street, we finally felt like we had our answer for south Anchorage.” said Croft.
For a place that’s only been open for about two months, Fire Island has already seen a mix of existing customers checking out their current endeavor.
“We were not sure if a South Anchorage shop would take business away from our first two locations or not, as people settle in to visiting the bakery nearest to where they live.” Croft admitted. “But so far we have been delighted with support from all corners of town.”
The main way Fire Island got people excited about the new location was through word of mouth at the South Anchorage Farmers Market over the past summer. After that, the word spread organically about the opening of “91.”
One reason the new location has seen quick success has been because they are now serving pizza with the help of their good neighbors at Anchorage Brewing Company.
“We are feeling blessed to call Gabe Fletcher a friend and supporter of our bakery.” Croft said. “Gabe recently purchased a wood fired pizza oven for his brewery and has asked us to make pizzas there a few nights a week.” He continued, “This was a pretty easy decision for us since we love making pizza and have been making our own at the G Street shop every Halloween since we opened in 2009.”
Pizza will be a regular item for the evening menu at the South Anchorage location. At first they will take small steps toward that goal by just making small batches one or two days a week with a foreseeable future of preparing more upon demand.
Aside from pizza, another key characteristic about how this locale differs from the other two revolves around not being within a cozy neighborhood. The third branch resides in an industrial setting and coexists with the businesses surrounding them.
Directly next to Fire Island is a specialized auto shop that restores and maintains a host of German cars and Porches called ‘Culmination Motorsports,’ often providing some intriguing visuals from the bakery’s window or outside seating. On the other side of the parking lot within the cul-de-sac is fitness studio; /vīb/cycle, which is helping to pick up clientele from members leaving their Spin and TRX classes with an appetite.
Adapting to a new setting can be challenging to get spontaneous customers to walk in off the street as they do in a residential area, so the bakery is hoping to widely spread the news of its opening to gain more students from schools in the area and others that would not naturally be in the vicinity.
However, there has been a huge amount of bicycle traffic rolling down 91st Street for a beer at the brewery and something tasty off Fire Island’s menu. The people who have been aware and coming in are revealing that they are thrilled to gain another option down south.
Avid customer Lupe Marroquin admitted, “I am now very familiar with their locations and I’m extremely happy to have one near my south Anchorage home.” She said, “Whereas I used to incorporate them with other appointments around town, I can now just drop in any time—and I do. I just love to go for a bowl of delicious soup. I welcome them to South Anchorage”.
Co-owner Rachel Pennington is part of the staff going out of their to way to ensure customers are getting a satisfying experience each visit. She said, “They can trust the brand and know we put out an amazing product using high-end ingredients. Customers understand that we treat our people well. It has been rewarding to see all these customers come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s just like I had hoped it’d be.’”
The staff is figuring out all the little nuances that come with filling up a new bakery space with equipment, shelving, product display and a warm, inviting atmosphere.
One interesting way that atmosphere is unfolding is through the help of musician, Steven Bacon who has been brought on as Fire Island’s “sound consultant” to provide the proper ambiance for customers. He and a small crew have strategically installed high-end speakers to provide music from a service called “playlist generation” Fire Island subscribes to.
Pennington said, “[Playlist Generation] really curates and narrates the music so that it is complementary to the food.”
In the new space, there are high ceilings and offbeat dimensions compared to the other two locations, but Pennington and staff have it covered.
“We have a plan for that,” Pennington said. “We have an acoustical strategy.”
Fire Island installed ‘F-Sorb.’ These high performance sound panels take away the unwanted echo and reverberation they were experiencing.
Pennington said, “They allowed us to create this calming, wonderful bakery atmosphere that focuses more on the smells and ensures that the music is actually in the background.”
With Steven Bacon being a local musician and an enduring supporter of Alaska’s music scene, the idea arose about using the sound system for live performances at the new location.
“We don’t have that in the plans, but it’s not written out either.” Pennington said. “It’s possible but it’s just not what we are focusing on right now as we get all of our systems here dialed in.” She continued, “The focus now is about getting us known to people so that we can create a lively third bakery that complements our other two through being consistent and also unique.”
The vision for the new bakery is to continue their tradition of being a grateful and community-minded establishment, reflecting the neighborhood of each location.
“Being located in a fairly commercial area doesn’t change our approach to customer service and commitment to quality. If anything, it affects our peak hours in the shop.” said Croft. “Being located between two well known breweries—King Street and Anchorage Brewing Company—we are seeing stronger afternoon savory sales than our other two shops.” Croft concluded by stating “Beer and focaccia or pizza go very well together.”
Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop
All three locations: Wed.-Sun., 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
160 W. 91st Ave., (907) 519-2290
1343 G St., (907) 569-0001
2530 E. 16th Ave., (907)274-0022
Robert’s work can be followed through Foran Brand Journalism.