Sometimes, the most successful businesses come about when they are least expected. For Sweet Caribou, it started with selling cupcakes at Saturday markets, and eventually evolved into macarons and salads.
“I never really planned to build a viable business,” says Sweet Caribou Owner James Strong. ”Our success today is a result of falling into the right places at the right time. Then, our business model of being an easy place to grab and go for lunch, or have lunch delivered, turned out to be perfect when the pandemic hit.”
It’s not like James wasn’t already familiar with how to navigate Alaska’s food industry. He managed Bear Tooth and Moose’s Tooth restaurants for many years. When he left the restaurant business, he pursued a master’s degree in fisheries management, then started to pursue a PhD in fishery economics. When he ran into a road block while working on the PhD, he decided to start selling some cupcakes at Farmer’s Markets, just to keep himself busy. The business evolved from there. As he looks back now, James says Sweet Caribou is what he was meant to be doing.
Today, Sweet Caribou is a family-owned patisserie, serving the finest French macarons in Alaska. They use high-quality ingredients and strive to locally source as many ingredients as possible. Their Parisian macarons are made with almond flour, making them uniquely tasty, as well as gluten-free.
James’ sister Barbara is the brains behind the macarons and many of the lunch bowls for which Sweet Caribou has become popular. James says Barbara has a gifted palette and seems to know what to add or take away to get just the right flavor. When the Strongs first started making macarons, James says they weren’t quite doing it right. After taking a trip to Paris and learning the nuances of making macarons, they soon realized they were on to something. They became increasingly popular at the markets selling out on the weekends with folks coming by for more.
“The thing that is great about a macaron is that it’s a small treat that is only about 100 calories, but still packs a lot of flavor,” says James Strong. “Macarons are a perfect option, or a great accompaniment to a good salad.”
After selling at markets for a little over two years, Sweet-Caribou opened a storefront in 2016. They established relationships with farmers and vendors so that they could source as much of their ingredients as possible from Alaska. The salads are designed to provide a healthy alternative to fast food, with more flavor. Each salad includes lots of toppings. Lunch bowls include the Chipotle Coldfoot, the Denali Beet or the Russian River Ranch salad. The Kenai Kale Quinoa salad is by far their most popular. They massage the quinoa and kale with a lemon vinaigrette, and top it with golden raisins, feta, toasted pine nuts, and marinated chicken. James says the dressing softens the kale and takes away its bitterness, resulting in a really good salad.
Sweet Caribou also offers weekly specials. The Solstice Sweet Chili salad is offered the first full week of each month, then the Cordova Keto Cobb is available the second week. Other weeks feature the Turnagain Thai, Caribou Curry Couscous and Pioneer Pesto. Each salad comes with a mini-macaron. Sweet-Caribou also offers catering bowls, with at least 24-hour notice, that feed six to eight people. Macarons can be purchased individually or in gift boxes of six, 12 or 18. For entertaining, Sweet Caribou can build you a macaron tower from a variety of flavors and colors to meet your need.
As for macaron flavors, they run the gamut – from Triple Lemon and PB & Jelly to Hug Mocha and Ginger Lime. James says you’ll definitely know what you’re eating because their macarons all have a big, bold flavor. So, for instance, when you bite into a Passion Fruit macaron, you really taste the passion fruit. Executive Pastry Chef Samantha Wagner, a graduate of UAA’s Culinary Arts Program, has been with Sweet Caribou from the beginning, and is largely responsible for the current Alaska-size macaron flavors.
By the end of April 2021, Sweet Caribou will be moving its storefront from the south side of Uncle Leroy’s Coffee, to the north side. That’s in the Olympic Center, at the corner of 36th & Arctic Blvd, and will include limited seating.
In addition to salad bowls and macarons, Sweet Caribou still offers a variety of artisan desserts including cupcakes. Did we mention that they also recently started offering macaron ice cream sandwiches?
Sweet Caribou offers free delivery anywhere in Anchorage between 9 am and 2 pm, Monday-Friday. They have a fleet of nine vehicles. The store, located at 701 W. 36th Avenue, is also is set up for easy grab-and-go. They are open from 10 am to 4 pm, Monday-Wednesday and Saturday, and 10 am to 6 pm Thursday and Friday. To order, visit www.sweetcaribou.com or text/call (907) 223-5160. Check the Facebook page for daily specials and seasonal salads.