After years of working behind the scenes in kitchens across the country, chef Jeste Burton is finally in the public eye — if you know where to look.
Burton is the new owner of Pie in the Sky, a tiny coffee, pastry and dessert nook downtown. You almost have to know about it to find it, but regulars swear by the custom-made, chocolate-soaked drink menu and, of course, the pie.
Burton took ownership of the business at the beginning of July and opened up shop about a week ago. She purchased the place from former owner Andrea Mogil in an “organic fashion” with little fanfare. Mogil had been thinking about selling and asked Burton, who had been running the kitchen at Rainbow Foods for six years, if she was game. Burton said yes.
“The idea of working alone and having my own kitchen is very attractive,” she said while plopping dollops of chocolate cookie batter onto a sheet. “This is me moving into a more public forum.”
Growing up Italian in New York fostered in Burton a love for cake, she said. In her hometown culture, “tragedies and triumphs are all marked with cake.”
Running Pie in the Sky will allow her to sell her cakes to more people. At her previous jobs, getting one of her cakes meant knowing she was there to ask. On Monday, she was planning for several cake orders just that week — one chocolate layered creation sat in the freezer as she baked other sweets.
The other day, she had a last-minute request for “the best cake you’ve ever made in your life” for a 10-year anniversary party. It was a challenge, but she got it done, she said.
“Cake is my jam,” Burton said. “I like it a lot.”
She shared a secret: She likes it more than pie. Don’t worry — she doesn’t plan to change the name of the Seward Street shop.
She does plan to stop selling pie by the slice and only sell personal-sized pies and large pies in the round. Homemade cookies, cheddar biscuits and scones also populate the glass case in front of Burton’s window. She makes them fresh daily.
Baking is something Burton taught herself while manning the kitchens of Rainbow Foods and Abby’s Kitchen for the past six years. She also learned vegetarian, gluten-free and low-sugar cooking, which she incorporates into her creations at Pie in the Sky. Many of the selections for sale Monday were gluten-free or vegan.
Learning to “bake by feel” rather than through formal training has allowed Burton to get creative with what she does, something she’s very grateful for, she said. The trial-and-error aspect also delivered its fair share of challenges.
“I’ve definitely had some major disasters,” she said of her baking career. “I’ve cried.”
Working for years in kitchens and managing a cafe for a chef in New York taught Burton the cooking and baking chops she needs to produce food for Pie in the Sky, and she honed her skills with training on Mogil’s locally famous drink menu. The lineup includes the “Lemon Ginger Wow!” and the “DDD (Decadent Drinkable Dessert).”
“You want your spicy chocolate?” Burton asked a regular as he stepped up to the window Monday. He reported that the concoction was just as spicy as ever.
Pie in the Sky will continue to do event catering and special orders (Burton’s mantra: “If it’s late, it doesn’t matter how good it is. It’s already bad.”).
Everything about the place will stay pretty much the same, with a twist. For example, Burton is using paper boxes tied with string instead of styrofoam to pack her treats — an homage to Italian bakeries back home. She’ll also add smoothies to the menu.
Mogil might be moving on from the tiny eatery, but she’s not done with Juneau. She’s visiting family right now but will return, Burton said.
Two other eateries in town are also under new management: the Breakwater Inn and Tavern, and Coho’s Bar and Grill, formerly Zen.
The Breakwater and its adjoining restaurant have been plagued by a revolving door of managers over the past few years, but now the business has found itself in the hands of a young couple from Florida. Crystal Yi was fresh out of high school when she worked for a summer at the front desk of the inn in 2009. A few months ago, she found she had a shot at a bigger role.
“This hotel needed someone to run it,” she said. “So I decided to give it a try.”
The bar and restaurant — newly dubbed the Breakwater Tavern — opened in mid-June and is trying to build up its clientele. The neighborhood bar for the adjacent Aurora and Harris harbors had been shuttered since December when the last restaurant to call it home — Paoli’s — closed.
Now managing the Tavern is Travis Deane, a friend of the couple managing the hotel, also from Florida. He’ll be serving up a simple menu of “comfort food,” including his family’s recipe for artichoke dip.
Something he’s noticed at other Juneau restaurants is an overwhelmingly long menu with a lot of underwhelming choices, Deane said.
“A smaller menu, less choices, with all of them being good choices” is the way to go, he said.
The hotel and restaurant are still in high nautical, 1960s form, kitschily decorated with ropes and oars. Before Egan Drive was built in front of it, it was waterfront property, Deane explained.
Yi hopes to start changing the look of the place come winter, once the busy summer season is over, including updating the floral carpets, repainting, and upgrading linens and drapes in rooms.
With a background in pharmacy rather than hotel management, running the place is fun but endless, Yi said. Celebration brought in a ton of guests, and “everyone’s been looking for hotel rooms as the flood waters (in the Valley) are receding,” she said.
“I never get a day off, but I guess that’s expected being the manager,” Yi said with a laugh.
Coho’s Bar and Grill, in the Goldbelt Hotel, is barely recognizable from the place it used to be: Asian restaurant Zen, which permanently closed its doors in April. The Coho’s management, based in Anchorage, completely changed the interior of the space in the few months it was closed by knocking down a wall, repainting the walls a rich saffron and completely changing the decor — including removing the chandelier that was once Zen’s centerpiece.
Jonah Keen, born and raised in Juneau, is the chef and manager of the restaurant, having formally trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. His specialty, and one of the specialties of the house, is seafood, especially halibut. Coho’s, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is also a steak house, bringing the location back to its surf-and-turf roots as Chinook’s, which closed in 2006.
Keen worked in that kitchen as a youngster before attending culinary school, he said. He lobbied for the restaurant to be named Chinook’s once more. Coho’s is close enough, he said.
The restaurant opened June 10, just in time for Celebration. The first few weeks have been “crazy, as any new restaurant should be,” Keen said.
Keen is also trying to get his menu choices down to a simple list. The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are all his recipes, he said. Putting together a rough draft of a menu takes only a few minutes, Keen said, but perfecting and finalizing the list takes “quite a while.”
“I’m still working on it,” he said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.