Braving winter storm, Juneau lines up for open house

Like many long-running traditions, the annual holiday open house at the Governor’s Mansion means something different to everybody who walks through the door.

For most of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who attended the open house on Tuesday afternoon, the experience involves a lot of standing around.

Standing in line outside. Standing in line inside to shake hands with the governor and lieutenant governor. Standing in line for cookies. Standing in line for punch. Standing in line to leave.

For the people working in the kitchen, standing around wasn’t an option.

Throughout the course of the event employees of Breeze In, which catered the open house, darted in and out of the kitchen refilling dwindling cookie trays and shallow punch and cider bowls.

Logistically, passing out roughly 18,000 cookies and 350 gallons of caramel apple cider in a cramped quarters all within three-hour window is no easy feat, but Breeze In Executive Chef David Moorehead and his team made it seem that way.

“Without my staff, I couldn’t get it done,” Moorehead said, standing in the kitchen while several workers plated cookies.

Though the cookie order was down a few thousand from last year’s 21,500 — a fact Moorehead jokingly referred to as a “reflection of the budget” — it still took some prep time to fill. Moorehead and his team began baking about 10 days earlier to meet their tall order.

“We try to cut it as close as we can,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in fresh is best.”

The evening was busy for Moorehead and the Breeze In employees, but for some, this year’s open house was slower than usual.

Tuesday marked the fourth year Susie Pothier, constituent services coordinator and occasional receptionist for the Governor’s Office, has volunteered during the event. For years before she was a volunteer, she brought her children with her to the open house.

From her station in the cookie room, this year’s event seemed calmer than she expected.

“It is totally mellow this year,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s the weather or what.”

To the extent the event was “mellow” it was only by comparison to year’s past. The Governor’s Mansion was full of children on cookie-induced sugar highs zigzagging through people’s legs. Adults stood in clusters wherever they could find space to talk about holiday plans and drink one last glass of warm cider before heading back into the snow.

Slow or not, Pothier said that she enjoyed the event all the same.

“It’s a beautiful sight for me,” she said. “I enjoy people and everyone is happy around cookies.”

In the next room, two people were enjoying their first time at the open house. Elizabeth Kell looked around the mansion in awe while talking about politics with Kevin Allen — only they weren’t talking about current issues.

“I’m still trying to picture Stepovich and all of his kids in here,” she said, referring to former territorial Gov. Mike Stepovich, who had 13 children.

Kell is a freshman studying history at the University of Alaska Southeast, and she said she decided to go to the open house to research Gov. Stepovich for a paper she has to write about him. That, and it offered her a much-needed break from studying for finals.

“I’ll do anything to get off campus for a while during finals week,” she said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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