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Hangar celebrates 10-year milestone

Downtown restaurant planning party to mark its anniversary

Posted: Friday, July 08, 2005

Ten years ago, Reecia Wilson and the Damitio family came up with a concept for a restaurant for locals that would also entice curious tourists.

Though 10 years may not sound like long to some, The Hangar on the Wharf has lasted longer than other attempts within the local industry.

Wilson said 10 restaurant years is a decade of narrow profit margins, earning a clientele and staying on your toes to satisfy those loyal customers.

Whatever the secret, it works for this surf-and-turf restaurant that is not only alive, but has given birth to two other landmark establishments - the Twisted Fish and Pizzeria Roma - which she owns and operates under separate companies.

"To be in business 10 years it requires a lot of magic," Wilson said. "And a lot being in the right place and the right time, with some sweat and tears in there too."

Other downtown investors are catching onto the same idea to carve their niche in the locals' palate. Kenny's Wok n' Teriyaki recently opened on Front Street and a stir-fry restaurant conceived by Heritage Coffee president Grady Saunders will open on Seward Street later this month.

"I think what people are starving for in Juneau is something new," said Saunders, adding that new restaurants help older ones by creating an interest in downtown dining.

Wilson said operators need a formula, but one that fits. For example, a nostalgic seafood restaurant with 100 kinds of beer works at the former downtown wharf, but may not be right for the Mendenhall Valley.

"It can be a very fickle business," Wilson said.

Bill Adair, owner of the longest-standing restaurant in town, Bullwinkle's Pizza Parlor, said that consistency is essential.

"Customers want to know what they are buying," Adair said.

Wilson said it was also important to invest in the crew. Staff members who prove themselves are worth paying well to keep them around, she said.

During the off-season there are fewer chances for youth employment and several staff members have paid for their college education by working at the Hangar, Wilson said. Including part-time labor, the restaurant employs about 65 people.

Wilson is planning a customer appreciation party in the near future to celebrate the 10th anniversary that passed June 30.

Wilson hopes the Hangar will be around for another 10 years, but she can't say if it will be located in the exact same spot.

The city has proposed buying the building where the Hangar resides, known as the Merchants Wharf, and turning it into a park while moving the two dozen businesses elsewhere on the waterfront. Daniel Glidman, property manager of Merchants Wharf, previously told the Juneau Empire that the building's maintenance costs nearly exceed the rent.

"I'm cautiously caught in the middle," Wilson said. She understands the reasons for closing the building, but hopes it doesn't come to that.

Wilson said few changes have been made since the restaurant opened.

"If it does happen, we'll keep the same staff, the same menu," Wilson said. "They can't take away the charm."

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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