My Turn: Silverbow Bakery

  • By KEN ALPER
  • Thursday, October 8, 2015 1:07am
  • Opinion

In 1997 when Jill and I moved into the Silverbow building, we were young and hopeful and ambitious for our dream. Bringing real New York bagels to the people of Juneau was just a part of it. We embedded ourselves into this community, worked to revitalize downtown, and tried, with varying success, to branch out into other businesses. Through it all, our hotel the Silverbow Inn has grown in both size and prominence, and our home on the roof gives us the opportunity for the kind of integrated lifestyle that few have today. It was much more common in 1907 when Gus Messerschmidt built the building that raised three generations of his family, and we’ve been proud to continue that legacy.

Eighteen years later, as we’re about to bake the last of about 3 million bagels and turn the keys to this remarkable and historic kitchen over to new and fresh energy, it’s with mixed feelings. We’re older and wiser, three kids richer, a little bit bruised and battered, but still in love with this community and proud to be staying a part of it. The restaurant business isn’t easy, as I’ve told many friends who’ve said they were interested. There’s drudgery and staff issues and always the money concerns, but also there’s ownership and pride and love of the work.

Over the years there have been so many moments and events seared in memory. I heard again about many of them over these last few days. There have been parties, dances, receptions, and concerts. Hundreds of Thanksgiving turkeys. On our projection screen we had movies, football games, elections, and the surreal unfolding of tragedy on 9/11. If I had to pick two events that stand out the most, they would be our son Solomon’s bris (Jewish ritual circumcision) in 2003 and the 100th birthday party for Katherine Shaw, Gus Messerschmidt’s last surviving child who was born in 1909 in what is now our Room 207.

I’m writing this on Monday, the day after our last day open. Yesterday was an incredible experience for us as so many friends and neighbors came by not just to fill their freezers but to say goodbye. The outpouring of love and warmth and genuine appreciation for what we tried to do to build something meaningful is a day I’ll never forget. The lines out the door and our frank inability to keep up with demand means we’ve committed to one more day of selling dozens to-go next Sunday. This is a kind of bonus for me as I get to bake the bagels one more time. Owning this place has been a defining part of our identity for our 30s and 40s. And being featured, just last month, on PBS’ “A Few Great Bakeries” is one more affirmation as we approach what comes next.

For anyone who’s confused, we aren’t going anywhere. We still own the building, the hotel and our home. Our kids are in school here, Jill is planning our next venture, and I love my job at the Department of Revenue. As anyone who knows us can attest, Jill is the actual business brain in the family. I just like to bake.

So like the “message in bagels” said on Sunday, “Thank you, Juneau.” Every word we’ve heard about how special our little bakery was to you, it was even more special to us. We’re thrilled to have Travis and Beau as our new tenants and can’t wait to see what they create. Thus far, everything they’ve touched has been golden, and this will be no different. If you ask them nicely, they might even keep baking bagels.

• Ken Alper and his wife Jill Ramiel have owned the historic Messerschmidt Building downtown, housing the Silverbow Inn and (until last week) Bakery, since 1997.

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