New restaurants look to breathe life into downtown

Subway, Mongolian fare will add to city's culinary gallimaufry

Posted: Monday, August 01, 2005

When a two-story Front Street building burned down last August, Wade Bryson suffered a serious blow to his business, he said.

The downtown location of his Subway sandwich tandem burned to the ground.

Now Bryson is hoping his phoenix will rise from a new location, a place he believes will be the next "main street."

Two new restaurants will be open this week on Seward Street, the commerce-heavy road that runs through the heart of downtown.

The sign and exterior walls aren't up on Bryson's Subway, but customers began coming in Saturday despite the fact that one of the open signs went out after it was switched on. Scheduled to open Wednesday across the street is Wild Spice, a Mongolian barbecue grill that lets customers create their own dishes.

"I see a trend of people coming back to downtown," Bryson said.

Grady Saunders, owner of Juneau-based Heritage Coffee Co. and now the proprietor of Wild Spice, shares Bryson's faith in the future of downtown.

"You won't find anywhere else in Juneau like this area," Saunders said.

Some of the first midday customers at the new Subway said they were happy to see the franchise return downtown. Stefani Peterson, a bus driver, gave a thumbs up between bites in her turkey bacon wrap.

"I only have a half-hour for lunch," she said. She likes having a place offering a healthy selection, she added. "It's good and it's close by."

Another customer walking out the door with a bag of food said it's a great addition to the neighborhood. "It's healthy and because I work downtown, it's the perfect place to grab lunch," said David Summers.

Anyone who hasn't been to Seward Street in the past few months may be in for a surprise. Construction is completed up through Second Street, leaving wider sidewalks for elbow room and classic red bricks for decoration.

Saunders said it's more welcoming than before, which may win back locals who have stopped coming downtown for various reasons.

Downtown is often considered crowded with tourists, void of parking spaces and lacking fresh ideas, Saunders and Bryson said.

They welcome tourists, of course, but their restaurants are intended for Juneauites year-round.

When Wild Spice was conceived a year ago, Saunders had Juneau travelers in mind.

"I know many people in Juneau that travel outside of the U.S.," said Saunders, who has visited more than 60 countries and bumped into locals overseas.

At the restaurant, diners can create their own dishes using sauces, spices and other ingredients from coffee bean-growing nations such as Brazil, Vietnam, Kenya and Indonesia.

"People in Juneau are starving, no pun intended, for something new," said Saunders, adding that he wanted to offer something different from the usual fare of American, Chinese and Mexican cuisine.

The restaurant also sells wines from countries other than France and a bottled beer from Belgium.

"People in Juneau are very independent," said Saunders, believing that unique goods appeal to locals.

Wild Spice looks similar to an art studio, with lights hanging from the ceiling and loud-colored walls. Saunders hopes it also becomes a place where people can order appetizers and hang out in the evenings.

Bryson, too, is after the late-night crowd and is working out details to open through 2 or 3 a.m. on weekends.

The Subway has about a third more seating than its Mendenhall Valley counterpart. Both restaurants have barstools along the windows for solo eaters and those into people-watching.

McDonald's has been the dominant fast food franchise downtown, but that could change as well. Saunders said his chef can cook the stir-fry creations in less than two minutes. Subway also aims to catch the lunch crowd with quicker service.

Kenny's Wok and Teriyaki, located on Front Street, opened in June and has enjoyed long lines. Owner Kwang "Kenny" Yoon also plans to open year-round.

"We just opened one month ago. People like a new restaurant," Yoon said. "But right now it's too hard to tell if it will be successful."

Yoon said he was glad to hear that Subway and Wild Spice are opening, and he hopes more people are encouraged to come downtown for food.

"I want to see two or three more restaurants come down here," said Bryson, who is on the board of The Downtown Business Association.

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