Business owner unveils plans for unoccupied building downtown
It's a question asked near the corner of 5th Avenue and D Street daily -- what's going on in the building with cardboard in the windows, skirted by a colorfully painted fence?
“Rumors are, they're always funny -- I'm out here and I hear people talk about it, they don't know who I am,” said Apollo Naff, who is responsible for the property at 436 D St., “I just laugh, I really just mind my own business.”
Naff owns The Bubbly Mermaid, on D Street, a unique Downtown attraction serving only champagne and oysters at a bar resembling a boat.
“I didn't have any money when I built this bar, so I started with just pallets because I couldn't afford lumber... Everything: tables, bars, chairs, surfaces, it's all done out of recycled materials -- whether it's a pallet, whether it's something I get off of Craigslist, it's tarred, it's stained, out of products that I get recycled,” he explained.
The bar is five years old this month.
“It's been successful,” said Naff, who got his start in business downtown by running a hot dog stand. "It was very risky to do it when I did it, but luckily it paid off."
The Bubbly Mermaid now finances his next big project -- the building at the corner of 5th Avenue and D Street. He says he tried to buy the building, formerly Phyllis’ Café and Salmon Bake, in 2008, but the owner unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy and Naff spent years fighting a deal that went bad.
Now, he finally has the keys, but progress has been slow. He uses profits from the Bubbly Mermaid to fix up the vacant building, doing a lot of the work himself as he can afford to, continuing to use repurposed materials.
“This will be ‘The Ranch'", he said, standing inside the Northern half of the building. “Everything will be paired with a type of Ranch dressing. A little footnote there -- most people don't know this, but Ranch dressing is actually an Alaskan adventure. It was invented in the ‘50s by a guy, by a plumber in rural Alaska, the founder of Hidden Valley Ranch.”
Naff says "The Ranch" will be a family style restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, a type of restaurant he feels there aren’t enough of in the Downtown area.
The other half of the building, closest to 5th Avenue, will be called The Crabby Angler. Both restaurant concepts include indoor and outdoor seating.
The deck for The Crabby Angler is currently full of old derelict boats Naff has either found for free or purchased on Craigslist and is outfitting it with bench seats and tables.
“You'll be able to sit at a boat in the middle of Downtown,” he said.
He plans to serve Alaska famous salmon and crab to tourists and lifelong Alaskans alike and says right now, he’s finally in the home stretch.
“The finances are really what I was waiting for, and the finances are happening now with the summer time business, and it's been a good year for us, even though a lot of other businesses are seeing a downturn, we haven't seen that.”
He has a permit and contractor lined up to wrap the entire outside of the building in pallets this month and has day laborers working with him now, tearing apart pallets, to get ready for the project.
For everyone wondering and speculating, Naff says he wants to have The Crabby Angler up and running next summer.
“I hope to see 10 boats with people in them, some filleting outside -- people can see that that's a good start,” he said.
He says he’s constantly making improvements to the space he rents near The Bubbly Mermaid as well, and plans to eventually open another small space next door to serve desserts and wine. A speakeasy bar in the back is currently open for bookings, and eventually, he hopes, will be open for business on a regular basis.
“My concepts are not really about full meals, they're about little bites," he said. "That's what's fun about coming downtown, is you can come to three, four different restaurants. I just hope to have a couple in people's repertoire.”