Kodiak couple opens creative creperie
Wild Honey Bistro offers fresh food in a cozy setting next to Bunnell Street gallery
Stop by Wild Honey Bistro, Homer's new cr?perie next to Bunnell Street Arts Center, and be transported into the stylings and fare of a cozy cafe with a rustic European flair. Blackboard menus, Ball jar drinking glasses, green and gold tablecloths with bee motifs, quaint metal chairs, a decorative rope bee hive, folky paintings of bees and other local art create a welcoming ambiance. You might even hear Edith Piaf crooning in the background.
The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Offerings include gluten- and grain free-crepes.
Our dreams can hover just below the surface, just out of reach, never quite poking through to reality. For Melody Livingston, however, her dream burst through in a sudden realization of "I could own this ... I can do it," as she sat in Maura's Cafe just weeks before it closed last August. And Wild Honey was born.
The dream gained momentum quickly; her first step was to check in with her life partner Lewis Morris. Turns out he was all in. "I always wanted to run a restaurant," he said.
But this is where their individual vision bubbles differed: he was picturing a steakand-potatoes diner type establishment, while she visualized a cozy, well-appointed, fresh-food bistro and cafe.
"Guess who won?" she teased.
The timing was right. "We were both ready to do something different," Livingston added. In Kodiak she was working as a mental health therapist and Lewis was an aviation maintenance director.
Lewis discussed their steep learning curve as restauranteurs. Three months of renovation before selling their Kodiak home preceded two more months of renovation at the restaurant. Then it was on to learning the business, as neither of the new owners had previous restaurant experience.
Opening the business has been filled with challenges, according to Lewis.
"Each day, each phase, brings a different challenge. Every day, every shift we encounter something new," Lewis said.
They agreed that one of the biggest challenges early on was having a line of customers out the door while the kitchen flooded. They survived, and customers keep coming.
Naming the dream
Livingston knew she wanted Wild in the name and wanted it to reflect a connection to the land, which is partially a nod to Morris' Aleut heritage and penchant for using locally available foods. They tried out many, many combinations, finally testing them out on Maura Brenin, the restaurant's predecessor, who came up with Wild Honey. The owners joke about who is the Wild and who is the Honey, depending on which of them you ask.
The bistro's mission reveals their commitment to fresh and local foods: "Here at Wild Honey our goal is to showcase nature's abundance that surrounds us in Alaska. We harvest many of the ingredients we use ourselves. We know the faces and names that catch, grow, and raise almost everything we lovingly prepare for you to enjoy. We buy from small local producers that love what they do as much as as we love preparing it for you. Our hope is that our bistro will help you feel more connected to your community and to your food. Bon Appetit!"
Cr?pes and local sourcing
Currently the two-part menu consists of both sweet and savory cr?pes, like the Forager, or Berries and Cream, two customer favorites.
Why cr?pes? "There's so much you can do with cr?pes," Livingston explained. "They provide the perfect platform for using local foods. They allow us to play with local offerings with a European twist."
"We work with five local farms, which I visit to see where the food comes from and to see the happy chickens!" she enthused. "We also plan to sell local honey, rotating different beekeepers' products."
The owners have assembled a cohesive staff: "We all work smoothly together and are all cross-trained, so important in a small kitchen" said Livingston. "Our staff is passionate about what we are doing."
"And, we are having a lot of fun," adds Morris.
The bistro features local artists in a functional way: flower-painted round patio tables by Gundega Brock, Wild Honey mugs by local potter Anna Iredale, free-standing wood shelving with hand turned spindles from Homer wood turner Ted Heuer, metal plasma-cut signage by Jessie Sabich, and interior painting accents by Siena Barbara, whose work on the front door brought out colors from the past, as she graced it with little forget-me-nots and bees.
Next to the patio door hangs a plate with a portrait of Frida Kahlo, painted by former owner Brenin at one of Bunnell Gallery's annual plate fund raisers — a link to the past and blessing for the future.
That third space
The restaurant's main goal is offering good healthy foods, but it also aims to provide community space, expounded Lewis. "We welcome business luncheons, book clubs, meetings and those that need that third space, you know, that space that is not-home, and not-work."
Next for the rapidly growing restaurant is obtaining a beer and wine license, hopefully by the end of July. Locals can sign the petition at the cafe or at Bunnell Gallery. Once they have the license, Lewis and Livingston plan to start Sunday brunch and weekend dinner service
"Brunch and dinner will be non-cr?pe-centric, said Livingston as she described future offerings: "Brunch may be dishes like cr?me anglaise, french toast, or a wonderful high-end crab eggs benedict with Mimosas, and dinner will be five courses with wine pairings. We are excited about brunch and dinner; we'll definitely be using seasonal local, freshly-foraged food!"
Realizing the dream
Despite all the hard work and lessons, Livingston and Lewis are enjoying their dream.
Lewis savors the people coming and going and enjoying the cafe and the sounds of the playful staff.
"There are these moments," mused Livingston, "we're cooking, the cr?pe iron is going, going, going, and I just become aware of the happy sounds, the smells and I think, 'Oh my gosh, we are a happy, bustling little cafe.'"