Sterling residents have another year-round dining option in town and the new owner has juicy plans to attract customers from all over the Kenai Peninsula.
Steve Drolet moved to Alaska two months ago from Cancun, Mexico and purchased Otto’s Landing and the next door restaurant on the Sterling Highway with the hope to create an elevated resort experience. At the start of November, Drolet opened up the doors to The Restaurant at Shea Drolet Café.
Drolet said the name of the restaurant is from a nickname given to him from his time in Las Vegas, Nevada. Drolet has spent his career in vacation services managing timeshares, resorts and restaurants. He said he previously managed the Porterhouse Grill in Cancun. He said he wants to bring high-end food and lodging at a reasonable price to Sterling.
“The plan is to be the best steakhouse on the peninsula,” he said. “We make everything from scratch. Our goal is to have a clean place to go and enjoy a great meal.”
The dining room has wood panel walls and seats at the counter that wraps around the service area to the kitchen. While Shea Drolet initially started out serving breakfast and lunch, he has opened up another dinning room set up for buffets and space for 80 seats. The extra space can accommodate meetings, events or parties in a smoke-free environment, he said.
Starting this week, the restaurant will be open for dinner service until 7 p.m. It will be open on Thanksgiving Day.
For breakfast Shea Drolet offers the classics such as bacon and eggs, sausage links, hash browns and pancakes. Dinner entrée options include New York steak or rib eye with baked potato, grilled or fried halibut, pork chops and free soup or salad for a balanced meal. In the future, Drolet said would add prime rib and lobster to the menu.
“We range from high-end to regular people,” he said. “We have a steady group that like to come have biscuits and gravy and coffee. Our prices will be affordable for everybody.”
To the right of the entrance in the front is a room that will operate as a gift shop. Drolet said he would also like to put in a coffee bar by the window and hire a barista and build a drive up window.
Drolet said while he is still in the soft opening stages with hand-painted signs and typed up menus, he is using the first few months to gauge what customers are looking for. So far he has noticed people want choice cuts of steak. He said he sells steaks up to 42 ounces and sold one customer a 36-ounce steak for $72.
With Suzie’s Café only open during the summer months, Magpie’s Pizzeria is the only other restaurant in Sterling to cater to a spread-out population of more than 5,000 residents. Drolet said he isn’t trying to compete against anybody, but wants to offer another option.
“So many locals are happy I’m open,” he said. “Instead of driving to Soldotna, we are right here on the highway so people don’t have to go so far.”
The last restaurant in the space, Chloe’s Choice Café, closed down fall of 2013. Before, that complex was known as the Naptowne Inn and Restaurant. Drolet said he isn’t interested in what happened in the past but is looking forward to the future.
Drolet said he is putting the work in the winter with the hope it pays off in the summer tourism season. In the winter he is getting about 30 to 40 people a day. In the summer he hopes that number would grow to 400 a day.
In the two-story hotel, Drolet said he plans to renovate all 15 rooms, install new carpeting and give it a fresh new look that would make it worth $200 a night during the peak season. He said he looks to continue lodging for oilfield workers to keep the rooms full, as well as provide a place for them to eat.
When Drolet visited the Kenai Peninsula on a fishing trip this summer, he was so impressed with the beauty of the area he moved to Sterling in September. Drolet bought the property from owner Richard Otto and is in the process of transferring ownership.
According to Kenai Peninsula Borough Assessing Department, the 2.6-acre commercial parcel is valued at nearly $460,000.
Drolet said the price for the property was more than what Otto paid when he bought the property in 2012. He said Otto has been helpful getting him familiar with the area through the transition process, he said.
One of the challenges in opening a new restaurant in a new area is staffing, Drolet said. He has found the younger people he has hired haven’t been reliable to show up for work and he has hired older people who have more stable situations, he said.
“I have probably gone through 20 people already,” he said. “It’s a whole different breed of people here. Kids here haven’t found themselves. We have a good crew now.”
Drolet said he is a gourmet chef but as owner he does a little of everything. With cooks Ken Morrison and Richard Reinhardt in the kitchen, he is able to concentrate on all the management responsibilities, he said.
“It’s my dream to work in this business and help everybody,” Drolet said. “I want people to come in enjoy a good meal and have a good time.”
The Restaurant at Shea Drolet Café is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.