Flying Into Business
Matt Tomter is used to flying by the seat of his pants.
A former commercial pilot, Tomter got into the restaurant business six years ago after seeing an opportunity in Nome to fill a niche in the local eating scene.
"It's kind of a long story..." Tomter said of his first restaurant venture Airport Pizza in Nome.
Basically, Tomter found an old pizza oven and started flying pizzas out to nearby communities. The idea took off, and the restaurant – which became a Nome hot spot – gained statewide and national fame for its fly-out pizzas.
Tomter recently sold that business in order to move to Eagle River, where he believes there's a similar need for something a bit different.
"Eagle River — for crying out loud look at this place," he said recently during a tour of the soon-to-open Eagle River Ale House on the Old Glenn Highway downtown. "There's 35,000 people living here and nowhere to go."
Tomter said he thinks his restaurant – which will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and focus on foods like pizza and burgers – will be a big boost to an area not known for its night life.
"This place needs a place like this," he said.
When Tomter and his family opened Airport Pizza, he said people in Nome started showing up just for something to do in the evening.
"When we did something like this in Nome, a lot more people started going out," he said.
Tomter's restaurant will feature 32 tap beers, most of which he said will be smaller craft beers.
"We might put some Pabst in there to make sure the die-hards are taken care of," he joked.
The restaurant occupies the building that previously housed Johann's, which closed down last month. Since then, Tomter has extensively remodeled both the exterior and interior of the two-story building. He said he hired contractors from the Chugiak-Eagle River area to do the work.
"We couldn't be happier, we've had a great group of people come in and help us," he said.
The restaurant will have a casual feel, he said, with "good music playing all the time," and a couple big-screen TV's for sports fans. Basically, he said he envisions a place people can come for both special occasions and relaxed weeknight dinners.
"We'll have a little bit of everything," he said.
Tomter has two daughters, 11 and 13, and he said a big reason his family wanted to come to Eagle River – besides the business opportunity – were the area's schools.
"We think the school system here in Eagle River is awesome," he said.
Tomter said he's not announcing an exact opening date, although he has already begun hiring staff and putting the finishing touches on the building with the idea that the area's newest restaurant will start cooking by the beginning of next month.
"The day we're ready to open we'll just turn on the open sign and see who shows up," he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.