The Double O Express’ new home is a hop, skip, leap and a jump from its old home.
The restaurant started its life in a trailer next to the Bow Bar in Old Town Kenai, serving up burgers until 3 a.m. Bar crowds would stop by either from the Bow or would come from all the way across town in a taxi.
These days, the restaurant gets travelers, too — it relocated to a brick-and-mortar location inside the Kenai Airport on July 11. Along with the move came a schedule overhaul, menu innovations, new staff and a whole new look.
“Some people still don’t know we’re here,” said Tammy Olson, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Dave Olson. “I even changed the name of our Facebook page to ‘Double O Express at the Kenai Airport.’”
Occupying the space that used to house Odie’s Deli, the new restaurant expanded from its constrained former space to a full-service kitchen with seating, a soda machine, walls for artwork and windows to watch planes take off and land. Tammy Olson said she has plans to install a fireplace in the corner to create a “living room” space.
“(The old restaurant was) about the size of where the waitresses are (now),” Dave Olson chuckled.
Tammy and Dave Olson opened the restaurant in April 2015 after Dave returned from working as a chef on the North Slope. Tinkering with hours and menu options produced a late-night niche for bargoers and night-shift workers. It was often just the two of them working in the trailer, tinkering with new menu offerings, Tammy Olson said.
The business expanded so much in the first four months that they began looking for a new place to operate as far back as August 2015, she said. The restaurant in the airport became available when Odie’s Deli decided it would leave the location in June.
The airport staff and city staff has been helpful and supportive throughout the process of applying for permits and getting set up, she said. People from the City of Kenai have come by to test out the food and customer service, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski dropped by on her way through Kenai, Tammy Olson said.
One of the core principles of the restaurant is to provide good customer service, Tammy Olson said. She said she corresponds with customers regularly about what the restaurant could be doing better and how its staff is doing. Every meal is cooked to order, even down to providing gluten-free buns for those who are gluten intolerant, she said.
“You really get to know your customers,” she said.
Dave Olson said another principle is to provide affordable food and good service year-round, even after the tourists have gone home.
“We want to provide things for people at a reasonable cost,” he said. “We have traffic coming through here … but we want to cater to the locals.”
Many peninsula residents fly in and out of the Kenai Airport to get to jobs on the North Slope, often on early flights. So the restaurant opens at 5 a.m. with fresh-baked biscuits and coffee, providing a place for those waiting on a flight to come get breakfast and read the books lined up along the windowsill, do work on the free WiFi or relax.
The Olsons are still experimenting, both on the menu and on the events at the restaurant. They had originally offered a dinner menu with king salmon steaks but had to drop it because of lack of interest. Tammy Olson said she’s hoping to bring it back for a dinner theater put on at the restaurant by Kenai Performers, which she said is still being worked out.
One of the first things she wants to try is a tea service for some of the senior women in the Kenai area, she said. Having the restaurant space with tables was also a response to customers, she said.
“We really listened to our customers because they said if you had a sit-down place, we would bring our families,” Tammy Olson said.
The restaurant moved to a seven-day per week schedule, with plans to look at operating 24/7, Tammy Olson said. They aim to keep up the customer service level in winter as well, are looking at local delivery and cater to allergies. You can even text in your order.
“We’ve very open to constructive criticism,” Tammy Olson said.
The Double O Express is open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Brunch will be offered on Sundays beginning in September from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and an all- you-can-eat burger bar on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.