Bistro Red Beet is a colorful and flavorful eatery nestled in between Palmer and Wasilla. The Bistro offers a menu that changes weekly, based on what delectable Alaskan foods are available. Using almost all Alaskan grown ingredients, chef and owner, Sally Koppenberg and her staff work hard to create gluten free bakery items, gourmet sandwiches, mouthwatering soups, and more.
Sally was born and raised in Alaska, and grew up learning how to cook from her parents. Her passion for food started at a young age and she loved experimenting with unique flavor combinations. At seventeen she traveled to the continental US for college and became an environmental scientist. Although there were many opportunities for her in the States, she decided to come back to Alaska. Throughout the years she spent time traveling but somehow always found herself back in the northern climate of Alaska. Sally fell in love with the challenge of finding food in such a harsh climate, and she has shared that niche of unique northern food with Alaskans, through Bistro Red Beet. Below are some questions she answered regarding good, clean, Alaskan food and her bistro.
You’re known as a dedicated gluten free bakery, what exactly does that mean?
Just as it sounds, we only offer gluten free items. We want everyone who comes into Bistro Red Beet, regardless of their dietary needs, to be able to enjoy our food.
Where did the idea of Bistro Red Beet sprout from?
There was no particular idea, we just wanted a place where Alaskan grown food would be sold. I think every community should offer eateries that serve local food, and it’s a niche that needs to be filled. It is important to eat local food and know where it comes from. Good, clean food is what Bistro Red Beet ultimately offers to Alaskans.
How does winter affect farm to table food?
It is sometimes hard for people to understand that Alaska actually offers a variety of great food throughout the year. Even in the winter we have growers that provide us with microgreens, greens and herbs. Much of Alaska’s seafood is harvested during winter, and we take advantage of that. Meat is also available year-round, and although our menu is quite light on meat, it is nice to have it available. Crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes and a few other items are not available fresh throughout the year, so we ferment and preserve these items, allowing them to be served 12 months a year. Many root foods are storable throughout winter. It is a lot of work, but very worth it to be able to eat local food all year.
Where do your produce and ingredients come from?
At Bistro Red Beet we strive to use 85% local and 85% organic food. The 15% non-local goes to mostly bakery items, such as flours, lemons, and chocolate. If we didn’t have the bakery, we could easily serve 100% local. We do a lot of wild harvesting ourselves, from roots to mushrooms, starting early in the spring with nettles, fiddlehead ferns, and willow buds. We also harvest some wild grains, but unfortunately Alaska has few gluten free options when it comes to grains. Foods that we don’t wild harvest come from local farms and growers. It has taken a variety of connections, time and knowledge to get the food at Bistro Red Beet where it is today.
Your menu changes weekly, how do you decide what scrumptious items are available?
On Mondays I look over what ingredients we have and what needs to be purchased. We have great relationships with our growers, and some of them allow us to harvest whatever produce we need on our own time. By midday Mondays, I know what is available and make sure that the menu covers vegetarians, meat eaters, vegans, and dairy free. The goal is to serve good food with good taste combinations, and interesting components that appeal to a broad variety of people. We also have staple items that are always on the menu such as the Bistro Burger and our breakfast items, including a vegan breakfast.
What impact does Bistro Red Beet have on the community?
The future of our community depends on the strength of its citizens and economy. Small businesses such as Bistro Red Beet, are an integral part of this formula and it is important to recognize this and invest in the community. With this in mind, we give about three percent of our income to local charities, specifically focusing on those that help people who need food, Alaskan farms, or the environment. Additionally, we donate food to memorial services for clients or families of clients who are in need. Bistro Red Beet also focuses on protecting wild salmon and seafood. Over time we have found it is very important to have a strong focus. Sustainability and recycling are of high importance to us and we recycle everything we can as well as support the local recycling center.
Donuts seem to be a well-liked item, what is your most popular flavor?
Twice a week we make donuts and they are quite popular, I’m honestly not sure why. They are delicious, gluten free, vegan, and not deep fried, all of these reasons probably boost their popularity. The most popular donuts are blueberry lavender, plain chocolate, chocolate hazelnut filled, and anything with peanut butter. My personal favorite is a plain spiced donut with sugar and spice on top!
How do you envision the future of Red Bistro Beet?
Before Bistro Red Beet was a brick and mortar, we catered for fifteen years. We created the brick and mortar twelve years ago, so we are now pushing thirty years in the food industry. I would eventually like to retire so am currently looking for a good person to purchase the business. The purchase includes an experienced staff and a full year of mentoring from myself to help a future owner understand how operating a seasonal food restaurant in Alaska works. We definitely have room for growth, and I am hopeful that we will find a great buyer for Bistro Red Beet who will keep it thriving within the community for many years to come.
What is a Beetnik?
A Beetnik is simply what we call someone who eats at Bistro Red Beet. It’s truly a term of endearment to those who join us at the Bistro.
Why did you choose the Palmer/Wasilla community as home for Bistro Red Beet?
We specifically located ourselves between Wasilla and Palmer because we wanted to be available to both communities as well as easy access for those that live in Anchorage. Bistro Red Beet began as a brick and mortar in downtown Palmer where we operated for two and a half years in the location where the Palmer Alehouse is now. We decided that a more central location would be better to reach our local communities and we wanted a smaller space. Large events were easy to do in our original location, but we felt quite limited in doing that. We wanted to create a small atmosphere with fun and unique foods. We love the location we are in today, and pride ourselves in being a destination restaurant conveniently located, offering unique Alaskan food to multiple communities.