Inside The Place, the thin clack of a metal spatula and thick smell of barbecuing burgers pervaded the quiet bar Sunday afternoon.
The classic kitchen sounds and aromas were coming from Garrett’s Grill, owned and operated by long-time Alaskan, and first-time restaurateur, Richard Garrett. His new business, which opened in June, is situated inside The Place, a decades-old Kenai staple.
“I am the ugliest waitress you will ever meet, and I am terrible at it, but in the kitchen I shine,” Garrett said. “No matter what job I have ever done, it’s always come back to food. It’s been my dream to run my own kitchen for years.”
Garrett grew up in Alaska. His first job was at the Soldotna McDonald’s when he was 16 years old, and he subsequently bounced around to other local establishments such as the former Sal’s Klondike Diner. He has worked his way through countless kitchens, starting as a dishwasher and moving up.
After spending some time Outside, attending culinary classes, Garrett has returned.
“Once Alaska is in your blood you don’t get it out,” Garrett said. “I have spent the majority of my life here.”
The Place owners Cole and Jason Young gave him the break he has been waiting for.
“Jason and Cole saw the potential in me and gave me my chance,” Garrett said. “If I succeed or fail it is on me.”
The pair gave Garrett full control of the menu, and a small loan to get started. Right now, Garrett said, he works non-stop until winter to ensure his business makes it through the slow season. Sunday afternoon however, he was still buzzing from Friday’s rush, the busiest he’s had all summer.
“You should have been there,” he said, slapping a patty on the grill top.
Robert Voss, Garrett’s bartending counterpart at The Place, has been working for the Youngs for nearly 16 years, and said Garrett’s business compliments and enhances the atmosphere.
“He has the best deal for steak on the peninsula in terms of price and quality,” Voss said. “He knows what he is doing.”
Voss describes The Place as a “blue collar bar,” and Garrett has already found ways to cater to his customer base, such as preparing sack lunches for work teams contracted in the area.
Garrett prefers not to brag about his skills, but his affection for his trade is telling. He expressed his newfound excitement for fried pickles.
“I am no chef, but people will argue with me on this point,” Garrett said. “I like to play and experiment and find things to work with and I am excited about trying something new. I had never tried fried pickles before and one day I just dropped them and it was a success. They were delicious. That’s not bragging on my abilities, just, fried pickles are awesome.”
In the future, Garrett hopes to levy his experience at The Place into a permanent establishment in Kenai. For now, he is enjoying his space. Garrett touts his fresh sauces, handmade onion ring batter, and appreciates he still has the time to personally shop for and purchases his daily ingredients.
“Food is in my heart,” Garrett said. “The possibilities are endless. You can take one ingredient and it turn into 100 different things. It is challenging because it is impossible to please everyone, but I want to try.”