Originally published in The Northern Light
Banky Kitchpanich is waiting in line at Sweet Caribou’s stand at the Saturday market for six large boxes of various macarons: a delicate, difficult and delicious confection of meringue sandwiched together with a complimentary filling. Kitchpanich plans to freeze them and hand carry them to his family in Thailand.
“I’m bringing them for my family over there. They like things from Alaska, they like local stuff and they’ve never had macarons before,” Kitchpanich said.
Kitchpanich first heard about Sweet Caribou on Facebook.
Providing the Anchorage farmers market scene with a multitude of treats, James Strong, along with his sisters, bring French baking into the streets of Anchorage.
Sweet Caribou began at the 2014 downtown Anchorage Market and Festival. Strong and his sister Barbra started with cupcakes, with French macarons on the side. The intricate cookies are popular in France and are even sold in French McDonald’s, in the McCafe, to supply the country with their fix. However, in Alaska, macarons are few and far between, giving Strong and his sisters an edge in the Northern market.
“We decided to try out the downtown Saturday market. We started with cupcakes, cause that’s what everyone was doing, and we made the macarons on the side. After about two weeks, they just took off,” Strong said.
Taking a break from studying for his Ph.D. in fisheries, Strong eventually quit his program to take on macarons full time. Strong and his sisters traveled to France to learn how to make macarons from the experts in Paris. They now make an annual trip of it.
With Alaska-inspired flavors and the use of locally made products, Sweet Caribou’s macarons have the power to turn even the heartiest Alaskans into a Francophile. Barbra has been baking since she was 6 and designs all the recipes for Sweet Caribou.
“We try and pull Alaska made flavors in there. We use fireweed honey from a local producer. We use a lot of spices from Summit Spice and Tea. We also use Steamdot coffee in our mocha macaron,” Strong said.
Social media has been Sweet Caribou’s only source of marketing.
“I think the 20 and 30 year olds are looking to connect. They really like to see someone recommend it. The social media has been vital. We do a little social media advertising, but besides that we don’t rely on any traditional marketing,” Strong said.
Kathleen Hall, a local patron to Sweet Caribou, discovered the the unique Alaskan made French desserts through social media.
“I first heard about it on Facebook. I think it’s kind of funny, coming from Alaska and it’s a French dessert,” Hall said.
With the marketing success, Sweet Caribou will be opening up a tradition French patisserie on the corner of 36th Avenue and Arctic Boulevard.
“The shops been coming for awhile, we’re very excited about it. It will be a little traditional French patisserie. We’re going to have big rows of macarons in cases. Then we are going to have cupcakes and other bars that we do,” Strong said. “We’re really close, about two weeks away, but no definitive date. As soon as we have a firm date, we will post it on social media.”
Golden Wheel Amusements, specifically the Black Diamond Coffee Company, will be featuring the macarons at most of their local events. Events such as the carnival at Cuddy Park, Bear Paw carnival in Eagle River and the Alaska State Fair will also feature the macarons, and Alyeska Resort will be carrying the macarons in their gift shop.
In the summertime, people can find Sweet Caribou’s stand at the Center Market in the Sears Mall from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday’s, then again on Saturday’s from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the South Anchorage Farmer’s Market in front of the Subway Sports Centre.