Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:50 PM on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Familiar faces take over popular places

The new owners of two establishments are far from new to Homer's business community. The change does signal a new direction for Duggan's Waterfront Pub, now AJ's Oldtown Steakhouse and Tavern. At Glacier Drive-In, there are some new items on the the menu.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Adrienne Sweeney, second from left, and husband Alex, not pictured, own and operate AJ's Oldtown Steakhouse and Tavern with the help of three other generations of the family including her grandfather, Bob Walli, left; her father, Steve Walli, right, and daughters Lexie Pearl, 5, Lillian Rose, 7, and Eleanor Marie, 8.

AJ's Oldtown Steakhouse and Tavern

Owners: Adrienne and Alex Sweeney

Location: 120 W. Bunnell Ave.

Phone: 235-9949

Hours: 11 a.m.-closing Sunday through Saturday; 4 p.m.-closing Monday

Menu: Specializing in steaks, seafood and burgers

Entertainment: Includes dinner show featuring Hobo Jim at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tuesdays

In 2003, with the birth of her first daughter, Adrienne Sweeney figured it was time to leave the sea and head to shore.

"In short time I realized I needed to be home," said Sweeney, a fifth-generation Homer resident and former chief mate aboard the M/V Tustumena, a state of Alaska ferry.

She and husband Alex bought Driftwood Inn, offering lodging, charters and an RV park in Homer's Old Town.

From the south side of Bunnell Avenue, the couple knew when neighbor Chip Duggan put a "for sale" sign on Duggan's Waterfront Pub. Expanding their base of operations seemed a perfect step toward serving their guests and protecting their existing investment.

Purchasing Duggan's, which they renamed AJ's Oldtown Steakhouse and Tavern, also has continued a multi-generation tradition. Sweeney's great-grandparents, Ero and Lillian Walli, operated the Homer Cash Store, now Main Street Mercantile, at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Main Street. At the same time, her great-grandfather, Hugh Watson, and his business partner, Henry Chamberlain, operated a commercial enterprise in the building now housing Bunnell Street Art Center, at the corner of Bunnell Avenue and Main Street.

The structure in which the steakhouse and tavern is located also has a reputation for being the "oldest café and bar in Homer," having once been owned and operated by one of Sweeney's aunts as the Homer Bar and Café.

"It seemed like a fun way to continue the family tradition," Sweeney said of operating AJ's. "It's kind of come full circle."

Since opening Jan. 14, the family has upgraded the restaurant's galley, added fresh paint, remodeled the bathrooms, installed new carpeting, upgraded the exterior and added a covered porch. They also went smoke-free April 1. All of those are steps toward creating a family atmosphere.

The same goes for offering entertainment during the dinner hour, as well as later in the evening.

"I'm up at 7 a.m. and figured there were other people like me that wanted to go out and be entertained and then be home at a reasonable hour," said Sweeney.

Entertainers include well-known Alaska musician Hobo Jim, who was a neighbor and familiar face at local potlucks during Sweeney's childhood years in the hills off the North Fork Road.

In honor of area history, plans call for a fireplace to be added to AJ's, around which locals can swap stories about the good old days for the delight of visitors.

"That's what Old Town is all about, hospitality," said Sweeney.


Left to right: Chip Duggan, Colleen Wagner, Caroline DeCreeft, Molly Duggan

Glacier Drive-In

Owner: Chip Duggan

Location: Glacier Boardwalk, across from the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon on the Homer Spit

Phone: 235-7148

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., seven days a week

Menu: Wide assortment of burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, milk shakes and other beverages

After selling Duggan's Waterfront Pub in January, Chip Duggan was "looking for some summer-type of thing to do." With his daughter, Molly, two years away from high school graduation, Duggan wanted something familiar, but not necessarily year round.

"When I sold the bar I was ready to get out of the bar business, but the only thing I've ever known has been the hospitality industry," said Duggan, who came to Homer in the early 1980s.

As it turned out, Sonny and Nancy Smith were looking for someone to buy Glacier Drive-In, a popular, summertime fast-food establishment on the Spit known for its Glacier Burgers.

"I've known Nancy and Sonny for as long as I've been in town," said Duggan.

The timing couldn't have been better. With the Smiths already making preparations for the 2011 season, it was basically a turnkey operation. On April 18, Duggan opened the doors.

"I know they're real happy a local person bought it. It was really good for them and good for me," Duggan told the Homer News.

The Smiths had already posted new menu boards around the walk-up window. All Duggan had to do was purchase the products needed and open the door. He was fortunate to bring along some familiar staff: Colleen Wagner and Lorna Sparks, former Duggan's employees. Duggan's daughter, Molly also is one of his employees.

Most items are the same as customers will recall from previous years. However, Duggan has added some new twists.

"We've got a bigger Glacier Burger and we've got one that's called the Mega Glacier Burger Deluxe and Earl's Monster Burger, named after a friend of ours that passed away a number of years ago," said Duggan of a former business partner with whom he operated Earl's World T-shirt Shop on the Glacier Boardwalk in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

For seafood lovers, there is locally caught halibut and a fish sandwich made from cod.

As before, customers can eat in or take their food with them. They also can call ahead.

For Duggan, the change of business has brought a change of schedule.

"It's not from noon to 5 a.m.," he said, comparing drive-in hours to pub hours. "I'm going home from work when I used to go to work sometimes."

And it isn't year round.

"We can't stay open year round because we can't keep pipes from freezing," he said of limitations due to the boardwalk location. "But I'll be open as long as business goes into September."