Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happenings at the Squirrel and Lots of 'Em!

Hello friends and fans!

It's been awhile since I sent out an update. Not because there's nothing going on! Well, you know: business, family, life, sleep, paperwork... But so much happens in May, that I am just bursting like the spruce tips and birch buds to tell you all about it.

Speaking of spruce tips, we have a delicious Honey Cream Spruce Tip Ale from Kenai River Brewing Company on tap right now. And speaking of trees leafing out, right out our front door amid the spruce tips and birch buds in this picture, a little least weasel was hanging out a few days ago. Penny, our family dog chased it up the tree and sat for hours waiting for it to come down. If you see Penny and our new puppy, Ida visiting at the Squirrel, please DON'T FEED THEM - don't even give them dog treats! It's very important that our dogs learn not to beg from cars in the parking lot and we don't want them to get fat!

Mother's Day Brunch
Sunday, May 8, 11am-3pm
Join us for another extravagant (yet kid friendly) full service brunch. Guaranteed, a mother in your life deserves it! Call the Squirrel this week to reserve a table. For $26, enjoy coffee, tea or juice, a fancy drink such as a special sparkling wine or wine spritzer, mocha, etc, choose from 5 special brunch entrees and 3 special desserts!
Mom's who get the brunch may also participate in a 10 minute mini yoga and relaxation session with former Squirrel employee extraordinaire, Kelly Thomas. Kids brunch menu available: $12 for children under 12. Advance reservation highly recommended, please call 733-6887!
Art Shows
Stacie Smiley's paintings are bright, thoughtful and unique; her show will be up at the Squirrel until May 12 and I can't recommend enough for everyone to come and have a look. Next, join long time Talkeetna resident, Rose Jenne on Saturday, May 14 from 3-5pm for the opening of her second (annual?) mosaic show. We will be unveiling an amazing table she created for the Squirrel, and her mosaics, whether whimsical or artistic are always a big hit. The show will be on display until June 9.

Toward a Living Wage

Higher wages mean higher prices. It's pretty much that simple. But I hope you will read on to learn more about my thoughts, research and changes at the Squirrel regarding this issue:

Many of you know that the biggest challenge in any small business is finding and keeping good employees. A seasonal tourist town with many summer opportunities makes those challenges more intense and dramatic. As well, minimum wage is on the rise all over the country including in Alaska where traditional waitstaff are also required to make minimum wage (unlike other states that have a special lower wage for waitstaff who make tips). Talkeetna's summer boom creates competition for employees with many local businesses even bringing in workers from Europe on J-1 visas.

Teachers (!), social workers, agricultural workers, and, yes, restaurant workers are considered the most underpaid professions in the U.S. In restaurants, reliance on tipping, for front of house folks produces difficult staff dynamics; discrimination and sexual harassment are widespread; tipping creates consistent inequity between front and back of house employees; and ultimately, tipping is unreliable, depending on varying levels of busy-ness and the random moods and whims of customers. Here's a recent article from the Washington Post: I dare you to read this and still feel good about tipping.

I hope people all over the US are thinking about the true costs of every purchase, from the sources of ingredients and materials, to the environmental cost of significant transportation of goods, to the hard work and love that goes into each thing you buy from a small business, to the incredible challenge small business owners and their employees have to find health insurance, pay for car repairs, or send a child to music lessons. Supporting small local businesses is key (not just during the holidays)!

Meanwhile, all of this is even trickier for a small volume, small town, bakery cafe. Here's the bottom line. I want the Squirrel to put out great food and great service, great atmosphere and great value. And, I want to come to work and have 3 (in winter) or 12 (in summer) happy, hard working, satisfied, motivated, friendly, enthusiastic employees. The number one factor in achieving all of those goals is being able to pay all of my employees a better wage. The living wage for a single adult in the Mat Su Borough is about $11 an hour. Really? Could YOU live on $11 an hour? For a single adult with a child, it's almost $24/hour! It is my sincere hope that this little bakery can work toward a living wage for all employees (including myself by the way).

So, here's the plan. All employees over 18 are now making $11 to $15 an hour depending on their duties, experience, longevity and level of responsibility. This is compared with $9 to $12 two years ago. I hope that timely raises from the boss (instead of tips from customers) will reflect excellent performance, attendance, efficiency AND customer service. In order to do this, many prices will be going up an average of about 20% over the next few weeks. And, you know, $12 an hour still isn't a lot of money, for a skilled barista or an apprentice baker, so we're not removing the tip jar, yet. We'll still leave it up to you. Except, when we roll out the red carpet for special, full service meals, an automatic hospitality charge of 18% will be added enabling fairly distributed reward for so much extra effort from every worker contributing to your enjoyment of a special meal. Here's another great article from the New York Times: As Minimum Wages Rises...

We will continue to offer our FOUR local "in-the-know" discounts: prepay credit, arriving by non-motorized means, bring your own to-go packaging or travel mug, and bread punch cards. Just ask at the counter to find out about these great ways to save at the Squirrel!

I would be happy to discuss these changes and my evolving philosophy and sincerely hope that any customers struggling with the changes will approach me! It's all a grand experiment and surely will continue to evolve, but I am ecstatic that the Squirrel can stand at the front of these changes that are happening all over the US, even in Alaska. We are excited for a bountiful summer with delicious artisan breads, delightful pastries, tasty beverages, creative wood fired pizzas and so much more. It all happens because you come in the door and because employees feel like they get what they deserve for their efforts. Sorry to be so lengthy - I have been thinking about all this for over a year and am happy to finally be sharing.

New Staff!
So, speaking of hard working, enthusiastic employees... Welcome, to a raft of new faces: Kaila and Kimmie (returning!), Bre, Haley, Angela, and Michael in May. Then Raina and Lily in June. And likely one or two more! Sierra, Rachel and myself are relieved and excited for all the extra hands. If you're a regular, feel free to give them all pointers for fun things to do while they're here, have a little extra patience as they learn the ropes, and help them remember your name!

Eight Days a Week
I lo-uh-uh-uh-ove you. Eight days a week, is not enough to show I care. OK. Enough Beatles. We WON'T be open eight days a week, even though that would be a great way to show some serious customer appreciation. But this year, I'm resolved and determined to bring delicious Squirrel food and woodsy, artsy atmosphere to residents and visitors every day from mid May to mid September!

Summer Hours Starting May 15
Sunday: 8am-5pm
Monday: 7:30am-6pm
Tuesday: 7:30am-6pm
Wednesday: 7:30am-6pm
Thursday: 7:30am-9pm
Friday: 7:30am-9pm
Saturday: 7:30am-9pm
Wood Fired Pizza Nights:
Thursday, Friday and Saturday 4-9pm

Here's to a beautiful summer!

Onward and upward,
Anita Continue reading »

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

October News 2015

Hello friends, fans and followers of everything at the Squirrel!

I can't believe how fast September went by. Do I say that every month? Every season? Every year? This September in particular went from full on warm busy days to quiet cold rain and snow in a blink. October is here and I haven't even spent a day catching up on paperwork yet (pictured above)! And, Brian and I have spent more than a day or two "off" putting up our favorite farm harvest products including green tomato salsa, sauerkraut, apple cider, and my new extra favorite, winter squash butter (also pictured above). Usually all the fun winter activities that bring you to the Squirrel are planned out by now. Here are a few, but there will be more to come once...well, once I spend a day doing paperwork...

Second Saturday Art Opening
Join photographer Fredrik Norrsell at the opening reception of his exhibit on Saturday, October 12, 3-5pm. The show, entitled Wild Alaska features photographs of wild places around our beautiful state and will be on display through early November. Meanwhile, WE NEED ART! There is only one other art show for our bright and empty walls and we're happy to talk to any Alaska artists and photographers about the possibilities - please pass on my contact information to artists you know!

Fun & Learning at the Squirrel!
Gluten Free Baking Class: Sunday, October 18, 1-4 pm. Most people who are trying to keep gluten out of their diet are already experimenting with gluten-free cooking and baking at home. This class will take a few steps beyond the basics of gluten-free baking, including discussion of special ingredients and techniques, as well as preparation of two of the hardest gluten free baked goods to make: cake and bread. Plenty of time will be allowed for questions, and participants will take two recipes home. Cost: $36. Register for the class on Alaska Folk School's website.

November Holiday Baking Class: Caramel! Sunday, November 15, 1-4pm. Caramel is a simple yet tricky confection. It can be utilized to add that sweet caramelized sugar taste as a topping for ice cream, or to add something special to classy desserts and confections. Learn tips and techniques for making perfect caramel plus find out how to add unique flavors that will impress everyone who gets an edible holiday gift! Help prepare a fancy chocolate tart with salted caramel, almond brittle with cardamom, and spicy caramel corn. Cost: $36. Register for the class on Alaska Folk School's website.

Halloween Creepy Treats - Ages 4-8: Wednesday, October 28, 2:30-4pm Kids always have a great time in the kitchen at the Squirrel making tasty, spooky and somewhat healthy Halloween snacks such as mummy pizza toast, jack o' lantern rice ball, monster mozzarella finger, cracker spider, spooky cat cookie and more. Children 5 and under must have a parent in the building. Preregistration and prepayment is required! Sign up early to reserve a spot in person at the Squirrel or call 733-nuts! Maximum class size, 12 children.

Trick Or Treat Pizza Night - Saturday, October 31, 4-9pm
Halloween is on a pizza night this year, so before or after trick or treating around Talkeetna town, be sure to stop by in costume to eat something solid, drink something hot, or just show off your costume! Gingerbread bats and chocolate coconut ghosts for actual trick or treaters PLUS PIZZA SHAPED LIKE PUMPKINS and other Halloween shenanigans.

Deliveries to Willow and Anchorage (and Eagle River?)
So, I'm working on it, REALLY! The concept for this year's CSB with bread, pastry and gluten free prepaid "shares" delivered to Willow and Anchorage is coming along with plans for a single subscription season from November through April. Deliveries will be made every other week, 10 total deliveries of Squirrel deliciousness just a little bit closer to your home than Talkeetna! The cost will be $10 per delivery for breads and $15 per delivery for pastry/gluten free. If you are interested in this program, please send your contact information and I will e-mail you with all the details when it's official. We would very much like to stop in Eagle River, but need a good location for that - any suggestions?

Thanksgiving Heads Up
I already have pumpkins on the brain! Brian's beautiful winter squashes and pumpkins from the farm are helping us gear up for creative and delicious Thanksgiving special order ideas! Look for information in early November about dinner rolls, pies, turkeys and more. The practice bourbon pumpkin pie with brown butter streusel was a big thumbs up in my house!

Winter Hours
SUNDAY: 10am-4pm
WEDNESDAY: 8am-5pm
THURSDAY: 8am-5pm
FRIDAY: 8am-9pm (Pizza Night: 4-9pm)
SATURDAY: 8am-9pm (Pizza Night: 4-9pm)

Hope to see you at the Squirrel...
Anita Continue reading »

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Autumn News September 2015

Well, goodbye busy summer, hello early autumn!

Hard to believe the busy Talkeetna summer tourist season is already winding down. As with everything this whole year of 2015, early seems to be the theme of each season. Many people I talk to seem ready - ready for starry nights, a little more relaxed pace, and opportunities for creativity and community.

At the same time, truth be told, however we analyze the numbers and the pros and cons of Talkeetna's winter customer base, it's incredibly hard to find the right balance that gets us from October until May without draining everything that's gained in the summer.

Please support this little bakery cafe business throughout the winter, bring your friends, send your guests! We promise, in exchange, to provide you with a warm and friendly atmosphere, tasty fresh bread and pastries, high quality thoughtfully produced espresso, coffee, tea, and juice, made from scratch soups, sandwiches, quiche and other breakfast and lunch items, plus our 2 wood fired pizza nights. IT IS REGULAR CUSTOMERS LIKE YOU WALKING IN THE DOORS THAT KEEP THIS PLACE OPEN! Thank you and, here are some upcoming reasons, besides just being at the Squirrel, to come pay us a visit:

First of all, we're OPEN LABOR DAY! After Labor Day, we will go right to our winter schedule with a few small changes this year. We'll still be open Wednesday through Sunday and although the hours will now be posted as 8am, we encourage early morning working folks to waltz right in the front door at 7:45 and get a coffee and muffin to go!
After September 7:
Sunday 10am-4pm
Monday and Tuesday: closed
Wednesday and Thursday: 8am-5pm
Friday and Saturday: 8am-9pm
Wood Fired Pizza Nights: Friday & Saturday, 4-9pm

Bun to Bun Marathon/Half Marathon and 5 K
Saturday, September 12
Our local children are all back in school and the Talkeetna Elementary School has awesome and exciting programs happening! Part of the success of our school is due to the PTA and parent involvement bringing healthy snacks, salad bar, art classes and many other important lifestyle activities to the school. You can help support those programs by joining in on this fun fall trail marathon/half marathon and 5 K run. The 2nd Annual Bun to Bun starts at Flying Squirrel and ends in Talkeetna. Run your buns off! Sign up at http://www.webscorer.com/6762.

Fall Classes
Three classes are planned this fall! Sign up at Northern Susitna Institute! All classes cost $36 per person and have a minimum of 6 to run the class, so don't delay if you want to come into the Squirrel's kitchen for tips, tricks, techniques and simply a fun time...

Sourdough Baking: Basic & Artisan Techniques
Sunday, September 20, 1– 4:00 pm
In depth discussion, demonstration and participation to include caring for a starter, hands-on preparation of two sourdough breads, time for questions, and eating as well!

Gluten-Free Baking: Beyond the Basics
Sunday, October 18, 1– 4:00 pm
Most people who are trying to keep gluten out of their diet are already experimenting with gluten-free cooking and baking at home. Take a few steps beyond the basics of gluten-free baking, including discussion of special ingredients and techniques, and preparation of two of the hardest gluten free baked goods to make: cake and bread.

Holiday Baking: Perfect Caramel
Sunday, November 15, 1 – 4:00 pm
Caramel is a simple yet tricky confection. Learn tips and techniques for making perfect caramel, find out how to add unique flavors that will impress everyone, help prepare a fancy chocolate tart with salted caramel, almond brittle with cardamom, and spicy caramel corn - just in time for the holidays!

CSB - Bread & Pastries Delivered to Willow & Anchorage!
We're working on, once again, delivering prepaid "bakery shares" of bread and pastries to Willow and Anchorage. If you're on our CSB list, you'll be hearing from us very soon! If you're interested in getting Squirrel goodness a little closer to your Anchorage or Willow home, please contact us with your e-mail address so we can include you! The basic deal is: you pay in advance (about $10 per delivery for bread and/or $14 per delivery for sweets) and every other week, you pick up your bag of fresh baked goodies at the designated time and place. Except for coming to Talkeetna, it doesn't get much better than that!

Staff Changes
Staffing is the biggest challenge in every restaurant. This summer was really pretty smooth with MANY thanks to Ryan, Skye, Sierra, Kaila, Mike, Mark, Alice, Anna, Kimmie, Dylan (and a working visit from Esther). Most of them are moving on to winter travels, new jobs, school, and, well if you haven't heard already there's one baby on the way! Truly, it's hard to come up with words to thank the employees that make all this possible. Sierra, Mark, myself and Skye will be the faces at the Squirrel much of the winter plus one or two yet to be hired new folks. Positive changes are evolving to ensure that the folks choosing to work here because they love the food, want to learn, or like the pace, can also stay for awhile because it's a great place to be employed. Stop in if you want to invest your working hours with us!

Only one art opening is coming up this fall, when photographer Frederick Norssell will show his work beginning October 10. This provides a much needed opportunity to patch and paint our walls in September. But if you or someone you know would like to hang work this winter please contact Anita at the Squirrel! November and December are great months to show artwork, as Talkeetna hosts many visitors from around Alaska and holiday gifts are on everyone's minds!

May your autumn be filled with delicious harvest foods, relaxing walks in the colorful woods, and long overdue visits with friends - that's what I'm hoping for myself! Continue reading »

Thursday, April 30, 2015

May to me means new faces, Mother's Day, bicycles, and the much anticipated change from a brown world to a colorful green world with flowers and growing things! Everyone seems to be smiling a little more these days - here are a few reasons to come into Flying Squirrel and share a smile or two...

Second Saturday Art Opening
Talkeetna folks that have been here awhile know Rose Jenne as the business owner of the old Three Rivers gas station, laundromat and convenience store. Retirement has enabled her to explore her creative side with beautiful and artistic mosaics. Join the artist on Saturday, May 9 from 3-5pm for the opening reception of her show entitled "Bits and Pieces". Rose's work will be on display through June 11. In June, young local Kaitlin McLure will hang paintings in her first solo show.

Mother's Day Brunch!
Treat yourself or one of the mother's in your life to a delicious and relaxing brunch at Flying Squirrel on Sunday, May 10 between 11am-3pm. Working on the brunch menu today, my mouth was watering - I'm the lucky one that gets to try everything!

As usual we'll feature Alaska Grown ingredients with entrees, desserts and fancy sparkling wine and fruit mimosas. Children's menu will be available and all mothers will receive the royal treatment they deserve and a special surprise. Reservations highly recommended, please call to reserve a table!

Talkeetna Baked, Talkeetna Grown: From Us to You...
Flying Squirrel tries to use as many Alaska and locally grown ingredients as possible. And, we want to spread the food love to you in any way we can! Anchorage and Willow folks can sign up any time for our prepaid bakery shares, delivered to 3 locations every other week.
Check out this link about bakery deliveries for more information or to sign up. Also, we hope Squirrel customers and fans will consider supporting our small Talkeetna family farm and partner Talkeetna Grown at Birch Creek Ranch! Prepaid vegetable shares (CSA) are available in 3 different sizes with weekly pick up next to Flying Squirrel starting in mid June, and farm produce is available at three different farm stand/market opportunities from July-September. Potatoes can be purchased over the counter at the Squirrel in 5 pound bags, usually into June! Please visit the farm's website to find out more about our family farm and how to put more local farm produce on your table and in your belly!

Summer Hours
In the middle of May we will transition to summer hours of operation. We'll still be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays until May 15. Summer hours after May 15 - open 7 days with three pizza nights:
SUNDAY: 8am-5pm
MONDAY: 7:30am-7pm
TUESDAY: 7:30am-7pm
WEDNESDAY: 7:30am-7pm
THURSDAY: 7:30am-9pm (Pizza Night: 4-9pm)
FRIDAY: 7:30am-9pm (Pizza Night: 4-9pm)
SATURDAY: 7:30am-9pm (Pizza Night: 4-9pm)

Enjoy the sunshine...and the rain...and the sunshine...and the rain!
Anita Continue reading »