Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Charlie's Pizza faces the Kenai Spur Highway in this Wednesday, June 15, 2016 photo in Nikiski, Alaska. Owner Steve Chamberlain will close the restaurant in December and begin work to open greenhouses and a nursery on the property.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Charlie's Pizza faces the Kenai Spur Highway in this Wednesday, June 15, 2016 photo in Nikiski, Alaska. Owner Steve Chamberlain will close the restaurant in December and begin work to open greenhouses and a nursery on the property.

From flour to flowers

Steve Chamberlain has toiled over cutting boards and piping hot ovens for the last decade to bake what many residents of Nikiski call the best pizza around, and he’s loved it.

Chamberlain said he opened the doors to Charlie’s Pizza 10 years ago on June 7. The shop on the Kenai Spur Highway has remained a staple in the community ever since, serving up pies to local sports teams and students, senior citizens and those without a place to go on Thanksgiving and other holidays.

The time to change his course, however, has come. Chamberlain will close the business this December and open it back up next spring as a greenhouse and nursery, where he plans to sell flowers, fruits and vegetables.

“I’m going to grow plants, flowers, vegetables, trees, bushes,” he said. “Charlie’s Pizza is going to become a nursery.”

Chamberlain operates his own greenhouse at home, so he’s confident he can do it successfully on a slightly larger scale, he said. He plans to have the greenhouses built in the area behind Charlie’s Pizza by December, and he’d like to start up right away in the spring selling flowers, he said. Then, he’ll be able to continue into fall selling later season vegetables and produce, he said.

Sprouting beets, beans and peas already line the base of the outer walls at Charlie’s Pizza — they’re Chamberlain’s test runs to see how his plants will grow in that area.

The main reason for turning Charlie’s Pizza into a greener business, though, comes from an issue Chamberlain has grown passionate about over the last few years. A strong advocate against geoengineering, the term for the theory that government entities are damaging the atmosphere by spraying aluminum, strontium, barium and other chemicals from aircraft, Chamberlain said he has been discouraged by the lack of interest he feels other community members have for the subject.

“I want the people of Nikiski to know that I’m sorry they won’t be able to eat Charlie’s Pizza anymore, but I had to do it because it couldn’t deal with basically the apathy,” he said.

Chamberlain has been outspoken about geoengineering in Nikiski and the greater Kenai Peninsula Borough area, giving radio interviews and sending informational flyers and labels with each pizza box for the last two years. While some community members have been receptive, Chamberlain said the apathy he is met with from the majority paired with the tiresome work of running Charlie’s Pizza has taken its toll and encouraged him to turn the business into something new.

“Owning a pizza restaurant was my dream,” Chamberlain said. “I accomplished my dream. I lived it, I loved it. I was able to do a lot of good in the community through it.”

Though he’s enjoyed putting a great deal of energy and time into running Charlie’s Pizza over the years, Chamberlain said he’s looking forward to something a little less fast-paced. He also likes the idea of his wife and children being able to be involved with the greenhouse — owning and managing the restaurant doesn’t leave him as much time to spend with them as he would like, he said.

Opening a greenhouse seemed the logical progression, as he will now be able to provide Nikiski with healthy alternatives while running a business that’s better for the environment, Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain said he is sorry to end the run of a restaurant that meant a lot to so many people in the community, but that the greenhouse and nursery is the right step. While his plan remains to close Charlie’s Pizza and open the new business on the same property, Chamberlain said he would consider selling to a buyer if the right offer came along.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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