When Nikiski resident Bill Bliss bought the building for the Stop N Go Cafe on Miller Loop Road, it was what he described as an empty shell. Eight years later, it has been transformed into a local favorite known for its comfort food and community involvement.
Bliss reopened the local eatery in October after a year-long hiatus. He was hit with the death of his father and 4-year-old son and two of his employees also lost loved ones, all within a short time frame. Everyone needed a break to grieve, he said.
Now, Bliss is back as the business’s owner but in a less involved capacity. He has passed most of the day-to-day management over to his nephew, Ray Batt.
“I fell apart, but everybody that’s here has lost somebody,” Bliss said. “We kind of came together, and Ray said he wanted to take point, and I said, ‘OK, I’m not strong enough.’”
Bliss said the transition back into running Stop N Go has not been easy for any of his team members. But Bliss, who describes himself as a social butterfly, said he enjoys keeping things light, cracking jokes and poking fun. Doing so is one of the best ways he has found to cope with his recent loss, he said.
“We all have taken almost a year together to grieve, and for us to do something, it’s hard but then at the same time when you see people appreciate you, it kind of fills it a little bit,” Bliss said.
Bliss said each team member is working in their strong suit. Bliss will continue to be the outgoing face of the restaurant, while Batt, who is more reserved, will throw himself into getting Stop N Go closer to the level it was at when the doors closed last year.
“My uncle’s been helping me out in the past, so I decided to help him out for a change,” Batt said.
The group has plans to reinstate a breakfast menu to make it a true cafe once more, but their more immediate goal is to just take it day by day. The restaurant has always been very involved with the local Nikiski schools, Bliss said. One year, each graduating class got a free pizza, as do students with birthdays along with free ice cream.
Even if he doesn’t know a person by name, Bliss said the restaurant makes him so connected with the community that he can guess a person’s order after seeing their face a number of times. The fact that the restaurant also delivers food has helped Bliss get to know most of the best customers.
“You get to know everybody, and so you feel a connection to the public,” Bliss said. “Being the people person that I am, it makes me feel good when you pull up to their house, you don’t know their name, and all the kids are yelling you’re name and you’re giving them ice cream and making their night.”
While running a food business in a rural area like Nikiski can make pricing a challenge, Bliss said it’s a good feeling to be the place people come to for comfort. One of his favorite parts of owning Stop N Go is getting to know many of his older regulars, who he said always come in with interesting stories about their lives in Nikiski.
“My dad would come out three to four times a week. He was my best friend, and he was also really close to everyone here … and I didn’t do anything for a year,” Bliss said. “It feels like you’re wanted, and it feels really good.”
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