In Her Own Words
by Michael R Dougherty
Gwennie with George Kimura
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 definitely did not. But I am delighted 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.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 and the Fire Department.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 Parris Island Marine Corps Base in South Carolina 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:
In 1980, I finally decided it was time, so 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 many friends.
If I were 30, I would do it all over again.
Gwennie had a Secret
“By the way, Susan Butcher, the world-famous sled dog musher, 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.