New restaurant to come to Kenai Airport

The new business Brothers’ Cafe is moving into the Kenai Municipal Airport terminal’s restaurant space.

Jim Hamilton, who co-owns the new business with his brother, chef Lyndell Hamilton, said Brothers’ Cafe will have its soft opening in late August and a grand opening in early September.

The restaurant will serve “comfort food, coffee, and deserts,” Jim Hamilton said.

Jim Hamilton already works on the Kenai Airport as executive director of the Kenai Airport-based missionary aviation nonprofit Arctic Barnabas. A pastor and marketing consultant, Hamilton said his family’s company, Situlla LLC, already operates small businesses in Texas and Michigan, and had been looking to open a restaurant and coffee shop for about a year before the terminal became open. Lyndell Hamilton later decided to move to Kenai from Texas to to run the restaurant, while Jim Hamilton said his work “will be more on the people side.”

The Hamiltons’ niece and nephew had also been planning a move to Alaska to open a coffee shop — their nephew will run the coffee shop side of the business as a barista, Jim Hamilton said.

Part of the proceeds for the grand opening in September, Jim Hamilton said, will go to the Christian nonprofit Love INC, which helps families in need of food and housing. He hopes that Brothers’ Cafe will work with other nonprofits in the area once it’s established.

Brothers’ Cafe will be the third restaurant to occupy the space since early 2014, when Odie’s Deli took over the airport restaurant concession from PJ’s Diner under a five-year contract in which it paid $38,400 annual rent. Though that contract would have given the space to Odie’s until December of this year, Odie’s owner Megan Schaafsma wrote to Kenai airport manager Mary Bondurant in a May 2016 that her restaurant would be focusing on its original Soldotna location instead. Of her reason for leaving the airport, Schaafsma wrote that “ultimately I believe it boils down to us being mismatched for the airport’s needs.”

Double O Express took over the lease from Odie’s in July 2016. Since leaving the airport July 2 of this year, Double O has been operating as a mobile vendor. Double O co-owner Tammy Olson declined an interview.

The request for restaurant proposals that the city of Kenai put in June was unlike its previous arrangement with terminal restaurant concessionaires — instead of bidding with an offer of annual rent, applicants bid by promising a percentage of their gross monthly receipts. The bid form allowed them to offer two rates — one for their first two months of operation, with a minimum of 5 percent, and another to take effect after September 2018, with a minimum of 10 percent.

The Hamiltons’ company Situla, LLC submitted the only response, offering the minimum for both rates. The Kenai City council unanimously awarded the Hamiltons the concession at its Aug. 1 meeting.

Fewer people are coming through the Kenai Municipal Airport these days. According to historical data included in Kenai’s request for proposal, the Kenai airport terminal’s annual passenger boardings have been dropping since 2014, when 100,929 passengers boarded there. In 2017, the terminal boarded 93,844 passengers. The receipts of the restaurant have also declined in that time — from $302,658 in 2014 to $141,299 in 2017.

Jim Hamilton said leasing on a percentage basis rather than a flat rent “creates some incentives for a win-win, because (the airport terminal) is out of the way a bit, and it hasn’t had great success — it has continued to decline over the years.”

“I think we can turn that around,” he said. “The first year might be a little difficult, but it’s all about building a loyal customer base. Everything’s about relationships in Kenai.”

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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