• Vita’s Thai Foods, Fresh Sourdough Express and Far Out Cafe serve up tasty fare
By Naomi Klouda
Two relatively new Alaska chefs are debuting in Homer, and a third one is back due to popular demand. All are planning on keeping the fires going throughout the winter instead of doing a seasonal close.
Authentic Thai food is Vita’s specialty while Kathy Kysar is rebranding Fresh Sourdough Express and adding her own personality flair. Tim and Ann Hamilton opened the stylish Far Out Cafe on East End Road where K-bay Coffee used to be located.
Vita, whose full name is Wichulada Bunchim, came from Bankok, Thailand 10 years ago and moved to Homer four years ago via Los Angeles.
“When I came to America, I took the first part of my name and the last part and put them together to give myself a new name to go with my new life,” she said.
In L.A., she waitressed in a restaurant, but always felt drawn to the kitchen. “When I was growing up, I helped my mom cook. My dad was a chef,” she said. “When I worked as a waitress, I went back to learn from the cooks.”
In her Homer move, Vita switched to Thai massage, opening a practice in town for which she came to be known. Ironically, in making others feel better through the art of massage, she was hurting her own health through back pain and muscle aches.
“That’s when I asked my friends, ‘do you think I could open a restaurant?’ I had been cooking for them. I like to cook for my friends, having them try my dishes. They said sure, you can do it,” Vita said. She started small by purchasing a food wagon that she parked on the Homer Spit. Tourists and Homer people quickly assured her that her Thai recipes were catching on.
With winter coming, Vita moved from the food cart to a dining room on East End Road, by the former K-Bay Coffee shop that is now the home of Far Out Cafe.
Her menu features a different curry dish each day, and each meal is under $10. Chicken Sa-Tay salad with peanut sauce is proving frequently popular, as is her “Drunken Noodle.” That’s a dish made of stir-fry spaghetti, chicken, shrimp, carrot, onion, bell pepper, broccoli and basil. She also offers the traditional cashew chicken with rice and Pad Thai, steamed dumplings and Panang.
Vita has a following of regular customers hooked on her food, but they might also keep coming back for the hospitality.
“I like to make people feel good. I like to feed people and welcome them here, like to my home, and be a good hostess to them,” Vita said. “They feel like they come home to me, and we are talking and cooking.”
Fresh Sourdough Express
Across town, at Fresh Sourdough Express, Kathy Kysar also is finding herself at home in her new restaurant. The contract with former owners Kevin and Donna Maltz just became official this month, though the planning and learning work involved in operating a restaurant had occupied Kysar for a year.
Kysar is living several realized dreams at once in her new mode of life: She’s in Alaska, where she dreamed of being one day. She’s cooking and baking for others, which she always loved to do. And she’s immersed in the community at a new scary time when both of her daughters are now raised and off to college.
“I had always read books about Alaska, I liked Alaska shows and movies. I had told my daughters, ‘when you graduate, I’m going to load up my car and hit the road,” Kysar said. Then she thought, why wait? Her daughters were agreeable to the move, even though one of them was entering her senior year of high school in Wisconsin.
A teaching job happened to open in Homer, and Kysar was hired as the Homer High School English literature teacher. She also taught cooking.
“Baking was my therapy. I was always baking muffins or cookies at home and bringing them to school to share with students and staff,” she said.
After three years, Kysar was laid off in school district cuts. In need of another teacher job, she accepted a position in Kwethluk, a small Yupik community on the Kuskokwim River. It was an unhappy experience for her, and she longed to be back in Homer. The idea of owning a restaurant came to her gradually while working in ad sales. She saw the Maltz’ ad for selling Fresh Sourdough Express.
Now, after working the past several months under the mentorship of Kevin and Donna, she has learned to operate the restaurant-bakery. Certified through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Donna has become a nutritional and lifestyle coach. She and Kevin opened the Culinary Healing Arts Retreat located on three-acre in Hawi on Hawaii’s big island.
“We shared many of the same ideas on food and service, and organics. They have been so highly supportive. They held my hand so that I would be able to do this,” she said.
Playing on the cafe’s name, Kysar plans on reshaping the “sourdough” image. “Think of the older Alaska and the idea of a sourdough as being a person who’s lived in Alaska and knows how to rough it. They ate local foods as hunters (and fishermen), they liked comfort food,” Kysar said. “We’re still organic and I’ve added a lot of gluten-free products to offer from our bakery, like gluten-free scones. I have vegan dishes.”
Changes will involve working in Alaskana art, like snowshoes and antique sleds, historical memorabilia.
Like Kevin and Donna, who had pleased a large following during their 20 years of building the business, Kysar still grinds the wheat berry flour that she bakes into loaves and makes her pancake batter from it. She also sells sourdough starter, sauces and homemade croutons, spinoffs from the bakery. And she continues to trade with local vendors they established for purchasing local fish and vegetables.
Since she will stay open all winter, she’s planning on adding a wine bar for night-time events. For now she is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
Far Out Cafe
Tim Hamilton’s idea for creating a cafe, this time, came to him during a trip they took to Greece where they found a place called the Far Out Cafe. He keeps a photo of himself and Ann taken at that restaurant in the Homer Far Out Cafe.
The cafe is delicatessen style, offering sandwiches, wraps, salads and Kaladi Brothers coffee and espresso drinks made to order. Hamilton plans on adding a big screen television to hold sport viewing events at the cafe.
The cafe retains the drive through window. It also has the eye-catching “Fired Up,” a metalwork sculpture designed by the late Doug Schwiesow with local artist Mavis Muller. The pair of giant salmon made their debut at the Burning Basket project a few years ago, and now have a permanent home at Far Out Cafe. Hamilton plans to light the torches to brighten the winter months.
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