Late last week, Northern Lights Espresso opened its second location — a coffee shop in the parking lot of the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.
Owner April Weber said she wants the shop to be a modern hangout, with coffee and desserts, weekly live music, open mic nights, and screenings of things like Kenai River Brown Bears games.
“Not everybody wants a bar,” she said. “We want to be that fun, jovial space that people can go.”
Northern Lights Espresso, Weber said, is something she’s proud of. A big part of that is the team of employees that she’s built at the shop. Five of them have been with Northern Lights since the store opened. She said that’s because they have a “family culture,” and that she encourages them to experiment and grow in their roles.
People keep coming back to Northern Lights, Weber said, because of the great attitudes of her baristas, and the consistency of the drinks they produce.
“The word is out that we’re here and we’re good for the community,” she said. “It’s my dream to own a business and to work for myself. When other people talk good about you, it feels good.”
Weber said that Northern Lights Espresso was born out of her history with the Brown Bears. She said that she’s spent 16 years working with the concessions stand. She began as a volunteer, then in 2019 she started running it as a successful business after Soldotna High School stepped away.
Only a couple of years later, Weber said she wanted to expand into a coffee shop. In July of 2021, she formed Synergy Concepts, running both the Brown Bears’ concession stand and what would become Northern Lights Espresso.
“We bought a shed from out north,” she said. “That became our coffee stand. We did everything. I did everything from insulation to Sheetrock.”
Getting that coffee shop running, she said, was a “community effort,” citing help from the Peterkin and Navarre families.
Since then, Northern Lights Espresso’s original location, off the Kenai Spur Highway on Henley Avenue, has grown.
“It turned from a coffee stand into a drive-thru cafe,” Weber said. “We have burgers and burritos and made-to-order sandwiches and danishes. All kinds of goodies.”
It’s the location, Weber said, that makes that shop successful. It’s located between Nikiski and Kenai, a frequent stop for commuters in the early morning.
Though Weber points to the location, she said quickly got comments from folks asking them to open something in Soldotna.
When she saw that the new space was available, she was interested. She saw the store in August of last year.
“I was scared, because of the overhead,” she said. “Kind of kicked it around. January of this year, it was still available. So we started getting a little bit more serious.”
Part of the appeal, Weber said, was proximity to Soldotna Creek Park and other investments being made in the area by the city, like the Riverfront Redevelopment Project and renovations to the parking lot in front of the Aspen Hotel.
“Everybody’s walking right by my location,” she said. “It’s only gonna get better.”
Only six months later, Northern Lights Espresso opened in the space. Earlier this month, Weber said that she had had seven employees before the shop opened, but that she had just hired up to 16 total employees as part of the expansion.
A grand opening will be held on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with hot dogs, hot chocolate and a special drink.
The first live performer will be Ellie Nelson, on June 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information about Northern Lights Espresso, visit facebook.com/907espresso.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.