This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Brothers’ Cafe is the newest tenant inside the Kenai Municipal Airport restaurant space. The business venture reunited two brothers, Jim and Lyndell Hamilton, after more than 40 years apart. The cafe offers a full coffee bar, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and features recipes from the Hamiltons’ mother’s home cooking. Jim and Lyndell Hamilton are the youngest of 11 children. Food was their family’s way of showing people they cared for them, Jim Hamilton said, and it’s something they hope to share with the community of Kenai.
“We shared our food,” Jim Hamilton said. “We were poor, so food was important. That stuck in all of us kids, especially in my brother and I. The menu is all about comfort food. It’s what we grew up on and we feel that is kind of missing around here.”
Jim Hamilton is already familiar with the Kenai Airport. He works as the executive director for the Kenai Airport-based missionary aviation nonprofit, Arctic Barnabas. He’s also a pastor and business and marketing consultant. He’s lived in Kenai three separate times, and for more than a year he’s been looking for a spot to open a small cafe where his family could share their love of comfort food. He convinced his brother, Lyndell Hamilton — who has been working in the food industry and as a chef for over for years — to move to Kenai from Texas.
Double O previously occupied the space for two years and left earlier this summer. The Clarion previously reported that owner Tammy Olson said Double O made nearly three times as much money working in their food truck as they did at their airport location. The city of Kenai put a request out for restaurant proposals in June of this year, but changed the terms of the space’s leasing agreement. Instead of offering a bid for annual rent, applicants offer a bid based on 10 percent of their gross monthly receipts. The Hamiltons’ parent company, Situal, LLC submitted the only response, offering the minimum for both rates, the Clarion previously reported.
Fewer people are traveling through the Kenai Municipal Airport. The terminal’s annual passenger boardings have been falling since 2014, when 100,929 people boarded there. In 2017, 93,844 people boarded, according to historical data included in the city of Kenai’s proposal. Receipts of the restaurant have also declined between 2014 and 2017 — from $302,658 to $141,299, the Clarion previously reported.
Jim Hamilton said he isn’t worried though. The cafe opened in late August, and he said they plan on being at the location for at least five years. The lease is one year and 11 months, with three one-year extensions available.
Q: What are you offering that other places around here are not?
A: Jim Hamilton: Food has always been at the center of our family and our life and hospitality is a big deal for our family, as well. We’re making amazing desserts. Like today, Lyndell made a Reese’s peanut butter cheesecake. Yesterday he made a raspberry mocha cake that had Alaska-grown raspberries in it. We have buttermilk pies and we will soon be making all kinds of cream pies too. We also use our momma’s breading recipe. It’s a thinner breading that is flaky and light. It’s nice because you don’t get big bites of breading with no meat or whatever. What people are telling us is that we have the best burger in Kenai. We’re not just making that boast.
We wanted to make the best burger. We said we want to make a burger for a reasonable price that oozes with flavor. We use a handcrafted burger. It’s not a frozen burger you get from your supplier. We weigh them out and handcraft them. We even have a gluten-free bun, and we have gluten-free bread and pies, too. I and my grandson have a gluten intolerance. We are finding there’s a lot of people with gluten sensitivities here. Everything is homemade, too. We also have Lyndell who has so much experience. Kenai is lucky to have him, quite frankly. My niece and nephew are running the coffee bar. My nephew Hunter roasts coffee and we have that as well as Steamdot Coffee from Anchorage. We also plan to have live music on Friday nights, and the millennial group that works for us is trying to think of what to do on Saturday nights for the community. Young people working here is our key to success.
Q: How did you decide on the aesthetic of the cafe?
A: Jim Hamilton: We decided that as much as I like it, we didn’t want moose heads hanging everywhere. We wanted something where the aesthetic was different. Kenai’s ready for that. It looks like something you would find in an urban area. I helped design it, but my younger family members played an important part. We have a great view of the mountains from here and we wouldn’t want to detract from that. On clear days you can see a few other mountains. The other day an Army helicopter flew by. Everyone got up to take pictures, and I was like ‘yes’ that’s why we are at the airport. My favorite table here is the one with scratches on it. I bought it for $7 at Salvation Army. My wife and I got it and she said we could get it and scrape the paint off and make it look good, and I’m like ‘no I like it.’ … It’s got the scars and scratches and it kind of reflects life, because life is messy. It just is. It doesn’t matter what age you are, you got scars and scratches from early childhood and on. As we get older we kind of just collect a lot of this stuff. So for us, our decor is a little bit symbolic. Kind of symbolic of life and how we want to help people get through it. Some of that comes from our nonprofit faith-based background and some of it comes from my business background of helping people be successful.
Q: This spot at the airport could be seen as a risky place to set up shop, how do you feel about it so far?
A: Jim Hamilton: I’m a business guy and a ministry guy. Generosity is in my blood. I’m used to being very generous with people because of my ministry side. Sometimes that doesn’t translate well to business. It can get you in a hole. We’re not a family that when we start a business, the profit is number one. We’re the people, planet, profit sector. It’s a sector that’s been emerging for a while that’s in between nonprofit and profitable business. People, planet, profit business, is a growing sector, not so much in Alaska, but more in the Lower 48. For us, it’s not about making a lot of money. It’s about the people, adding community value and, of course, we want to make some money, but we don’t have to make a lot of money at the expense of other things important to us. We did change our hours from starting at 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. because it doesn’t pay to open earlier. We’re making enough money right now. It’s sustainable.
Q: Who is your target audience, people traveling through the airport, or people in the community?
A: Jim Hamilton: When we bid on this I was very clear that we obviously wanted to serve airport customers. The bigger target for us is really the community. We want people in the community knowing who we are. We want to serve them. That’s why we do street pricing at the airport. Our target audience has really been threefold: airport customers, the community and tourists.
Q: What is Brothers’ Cafe’s goal?
A: Jim Hamilton: We want it to be a communal kind of place. We plan on being here for five years. We have almost a two-year lease and three one-year extensions. We’re comfortable being here for five years. We believe we’re going to make it here. I am a marketing business coach, and I coach entrepreneurs to their first million frequently, so I’m not worried about taking a chance on a business. A lot of people saw this business as a risky opportunity. We feel like it’s doable.
Brothers’ Cafe is open 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Their grand opening is Sept. 20, and the cafe will partnering with Love INC. Ten percent of the proceeds from the opening day will go to Love INC.