Gwennie's Restaurant
In Her Own Words

by Michael R Dougherty
(California)

The following is an exclusive interview with Gwennie Thornton, the original owner of Gwennie's.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

Your Gwennie's Restaurant in Spenard became a legend. Did you ever think it would become so popular and loved?


Gwennie:

No, I sure did not. But I am very happy about the success.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

When did you first arrive in Anchorage?


Gwennie:

Mom and I left (for Anchorage) on an old-fashioned ship in 1938. I was a month old.

(In Anchorage) we lived with mama Kimura who made an apartment for us. (The Kimura's) were a wonderful family. (They later created Nikko Garden) We had to leave them when World War II broke out.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

What did you do before Gwennie's?


Gwennie:

I went to work in my Aunt's restaurant on the night of my 10th birthday for about four years.

Later, I lived and worked in Delta Junction and a man came in (his name was Larry Wike) and he said, “would you like to fly to Clear? I have a lodge there.”

So, the next day he came in, gathered me up and off to Clear. I never went back to Delta. I was about 19, and worked for him for several years.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

When did you get the idea for Gwennie's?


Gwennie:

It was when I was working at the Captain Cook Crow's Nest.

Gwennie's Diner was located at 2915 Spenard Road right next to the Fire Station. We used to pass food through an opening in the wall between us.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

Your Gwennie's Restaurant menu was so popular. How did you come up with the items to serve?


Gwennie:

I worked at the Paris Island Marine Corps Base and cooked breakfast for the Marines.

It was so much fun and I learned a lot about breakfast.

I love reindeer sausage, crab, shrimp and all the rest of the seafood.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

Do you have a story about Gwennie's that you would like to share?


Gwennie:

Something happened to my right arm and I could not hold the dishes or reach up.

So one of the cooks stood beside me and put the platter in my right-hand, so I could dish it up with my left.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

When did you sell Gwennie's?


Gwennie:

I finally decided it was time, so in 1980 I sold my treasure.

It was heartbreaking. I had worked so hard. Many hours a day and enjoyed it all.

I was lost about what to do, so I traveled around Alaska cities, and went to the lakes. I started to feel better and enjoy, and really loved Homer.

My attorney had bought a restaurant there and didn't know how to run it, so he asked me if I would help, and I said yes. He would fly me down, and I would go into the kitchen and make soups and whatever he wanted me to do. That was fun.

But I still think about Gwennie's a lot.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

Were you still involved with Gwennie's after you sold it?


Gwennie:

No, I was not involved.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

What are you up to now?


Gwennie:

I had my own restaurant for 46 years. So, after Gwennie's I retired and moved to Sequim, Washington and had a restaurant for 25 years.

Then I retired and moved to the Idaho Camas Praire, where the population is 700. So nice.


Anchorage Memories – Mike and Mary:

Do you have something you'd like to say to all the fans of Gwennie's?


Gwennie:

Yes, I want to say THANK YOU ALL for supporting me all those years.

You made my life happy.

And thank you for all the wonderful things you have said about my restaurant.

I miss Gwennie's and all of you. I made a lot of friends.

If I was 30, I would do it all over again.

By the way, Susan Butcher would come in and fry her dog food before we opened. I was afraid to tell anybody. You know how people are…

Note:

Gwennie's Old Alaska Restaurant is still located at 4333 Spenard Road, but is no longer owned or operated by Gwennie.

Her first restaurant, Gwennie's Diner was located at 2915 Spenard Road, and Gwennie's Bar-B-Q Restaurant was located in Muldoon.



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Comments for Gwennie's Restaurant
In Her Own Words

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History with Gwennie
by: JoAnna

Gwennie, I enjoyed you at the Captain Cook.

I was happy for you when you bought the restaurant from me and I felt like you would enjoy it as well as you did.

I hope life is being good to you, as you deserve the best. JoAnna

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I knew both "Gwennies" Locations
by: Jenn Wedt

I loved the old Import shop where Gwennie's was located.

Also enjoyed her breakfast in the Spenard location, but it was very crowded. So appreciated the extra room and menu at the former Import shop. My husband and I are there frequently and treat family and visitors there often.

When we retired to Sequim we were pleasantly surprised to see Gwennie's, and had to ask if they knew about the one in Anchorage, and of course they did. We enjoyed Gwennie and her Cafe often in Sequim for many years.

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Gwennie's
by: Tawana Carter Borden

I was raised in Chugiak from 1947 to 1969.

When I got married to a military man we started our journey, ending with us settling in Sequim, Washington in 1986.

Gwennie was an amazing restaurant here which had wonderful food and service.

My son worked there during high school.

We miss it a lot.

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Gwennie
by: Jean Pope

Gwennie is one of my very dear friends.

We spent a lot of time together in Anchorage and again in the Seattle area.

Better friend I have never had!

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Gwennies History
by: Ed Rosek

Thanks for this interview Michael.

It was great to hear the history from Gwennie herself.

I remember you asked me to contact her to set up an interview. Well, I did, but never heard back from her... until today!

I sent her another message to see if she ever got back to you, and she answered immediately. So months later, I've finally found out about this interview.

It was awesome to hear her history in Alaska.

I know there are so many people I knew who just loved Gwennie's.

Anytime I had friends visit from the lower 48, that's one of the places I would take them. It was almost always for the Reindeer Sausage–my personal favorite... so very Alaskan!

She has an amazing story, and she will always be a part of Alaskan history. A true pioneer in her time and a great example of Alaska's tough residents.

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Gwennie's Restaurant Building on Spenard Road
by: Anonymous

The Building in which Gwennie's has been located for over thirty years:

It should be noted that the iconic building on Spenard Road built from Knik River rocks, was built by attorney Ed Reasor for his wife Lillian to have an import shop there in the early 1970s.

Ed had all the rocks hauled from the Knik River. Ed also built with the rocks his distinctive Chinese style home on West Dimond boulevard.

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Nostalgia
by: Joe O'Hearn

Mike...

Nice touch re: Anchorage Memories.

As those who read this may not know, you and I worked together for Augie Hiebert out of KTVA.

With that said, seeing as all our daughters were born in Fairbanks and one now lives in the lower 48, Washington, D.C., and two in Canada. The oldest one wanted to introduce her husband, pure Eastern bred, to the environment she grew up in.

So last year we, my wife, daughter and son-in-law, flew up to Fairbanks to see the home she started life in, visited friends, did the tourist stuff and took in the annual Midnight Baseball Classic as the son-in-law is a big ball fan and was blown away that you could play ball at midnight without lights.

Then took the train down to Anchorage to take in old haunts.

We ran across Gwennie's by chance and breakfasted there daily whilst there.

A real classic frontier eatery. Very deceiving from the outside but all Alaskana on the inside.

Great food. Good service. One of their features is all the nostalgia hanging about the building.

The original owner (Gwennie) should be pleased at how their tradition, customer service and good food has carried on.

Enjoy reading about old friends and highlights of a great city.

A Note from Mike of Anchorage Memories

Great hearing from you Joe and happy to learn that you enjoy the Anchorage nostalgia here on Anchorage Memories.

Gwennie Thornton, who created the original Gwennie's Restaurant, put her heart and soul into what she lovingly calls her "treasure", her Gwennie's Restaurant.

And folks like you who appreciate the bit of Alaska in Spenard that warms your tummy and makes you feel at home - make her very happy.

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