This week marked the changing of the guard at a downtown Sitka institution. After eighteen years, the Backdoor Café is in new hands.
The new owners say the new Backdoor will be the same as the old Backdoor — only better.
PETERSON: My name’s Alana Peterson, I’m from Sitka, 28 years old, mom of one…
…and the proud new owner of Sitka’s Backdoor Cafe.
Peterson and her husband, Jose Figueroa, officially took over the Backdoor on June 15. Which means they are now the custodians of a space that many Sitkans regard as their second living room.
KCAW: How often do you think you come down to the Backdoor?
BUDD: How often do I come down…lately it’s a couple, three times a week, but in the past it’s been every day, maybe a couple times a day
WINSLOW: Some weeks it’s kind of every day, and sometimes it’s only a couple times a week…
SCHAFER: For a while, probably once a day, Monday through Friday [[laughs]]…
Those are Backdoor patrons Jeff Budd, Kathryn Winslow and Brooke Schafer. As Budd says, the coffee shop plays an outsize role in the daily lives of many Sitkans.
“This is people’s office, home away from home, living room, den, social place, tons of business takes place here, great conversations,” Budd says. “Yeah, it is part of the social fabric here.”
And so people are wondering — are the new owners planning any big changes?
“No, no,” Peterson says. “I grew up here and I have fond memories of this place growing up, so the last thing I want to do is [make] drastic changes. My plan of course at the beginning is to try and just keep everything as up to par and the same as it has been with Bernadette.”
That would be Bernadette Rasmussen, who with her husband, Darryl Rehkopf, has owned the Backdoor for the better part of two decades. Along the way, Bernadette — and her baking — have become Sitka institutions.
“But we do have some ideas for how we can grow it,” Peterson says.
Peterson says she’d like to keep the Backdoor open more often in the evenings. She’s interested in holding events with Old Harbor Books, which shares the building, and in holding art classes. But her first priority is to keep things rolling along much as they always have.
She says that when she decided to buy the Backdoor, she knew she needed two things.
“You know, we can’t keep Bernadette,” Peterson says. “So since she’s leaving, I need the staff and I need those recipes. And those are both things that are going to stay in the immediate future.”
Peterson says that when her mother told her the Backdoor was for sale, she didn’t hesitate. She has an MBA, and her day job is economic development coordinator at Haa Aani, the Sealaska subsidiary. She says owning a small business has always been the goal.
“I always knew I’d do this, so it’s not too scary. I love business, and I want to run a business,” Peterson says. “I’m a risk taker and I love new adventures, so, yeah, I’m really excited.”
As for Bernadette, she preferred not to talk about leaving: She’s letting eighteen years behind the counter speak for themselves.