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Archive for the ‘Food and eating’ Category

The red couch (and chair) of Red Couch Trading Post

The red couch (and chair) of Red Couch Trading Post

I write this from the latest treasure to open downtown: Red Couch Trading Post, where I write on my laptop while enjoying a blueberry cream-cheese cake, a cinnamon pull-apart (a small monkey bread), and a coffee.

Red Couch is part cafe, part bakery, part deli, and part convenience store. They have a simple deli counter, where you can have sandwiches made to order. At the same counter is their selection of pastries: not only the cinnamon pull-aparts, but cakes, pies, cobblers, and cookies. (I have tried both the peach and the blueberry cobblers, and they are excellent.) The espresso bar offers Fair Trade Certified coffee, both in prepared beverages and as bags of beans.

Most exciting, I think, is that Red Couch is a locally owned, neighborhood convenience store. Not only coffee beans are for sale, but also milk, butter (by the stick), single-serving breakfast cereals, crackers, chips, canned soups, canned milk, toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and cat and dog food. (In fact, I first stopped into Red Couch a couple of weeks ago, when I was clean out of cat food. I made the mistake of driving to a popular national chain first and getting what I needed, then visiting Red Couch because I’d read about it in the newspaper. I kicked myself afterwards for depriving myself of a nice walk and the chance to support a neighborhood business.)

Now, the two or three national chain groceries closest to downtown have a far greater selection than Red Couch — but having the greatest selection is not the point of a convenience store. The point is that it’s in your neighborhood, and going there is faster and easier than getting in your car to drive to a major grocery store. In fact, the major grocery stores near us are within walking distance of practically nobody (which, if you’re without a car, really makes them inconvenience stores). Red Couch is actually in a neighborhood, where people live. They are right behind Golden Towers public housing and within especially easy reach of the east side of downtown (Clay St., etc.).

The fact that they offer wireless internet access (in addition to lunch, coffee, and snacks) means that they are a great place for downtown business people to spend time getting work done in a bright, relaxed atmosphere. My wife, for example, often has to be in the courthouse, and she could do a good bit of e-mailing and report-writing while enjoying tea, coffee, or lunch — or while just relaxing on the cozy red couch for which the store is named.

(Today was my first time trying to connect to their wireless access point, with no success.  My computer told me that the connection was established, but nothing was ever transmitted or received.  If anybody reading this has some wireless networking expertise, could you please pay them a visit to see if there’s anything they might change to make the wireless work better?)

I think it’s always a good thing when a local business gives people reasons to get out of their houses and walk around their neighborhoods. In fact, the best neighborhoods are full of such destinations, and can be identified partly by the number of people on the street moving from one useful place to the next. Red Couch Trading Post gives downtown another such destination — a place to do something useful and to relax (and perhaps to run into neighbors). As long as they’re open, I’ll happily give them my custom.

The building is unremarkable, but the location is great -- as are the cobblers

The building is unremarkable, but the location is great -- as are the cobblers

Red Couch Trading Post is at 309 Second Avenue (where Second crosses Dunkel), in downtown Fairbanks.  They are currently open Tuesday – Friday, 6:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Their telephone number is 374-3414; their fax number (they take fax orders for sandwiches) is 374-3430.

Article from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Thursday, May 7, 2009.


In sadder news, Gambardella’s has now closed their breakfast service. A manager told me that they got almost no business at that hour, and it just wasn’t cost effective to keep three or more people on staff for the extra hours. That’s too bad: I thought they lent breakfast a touch of class, a chance for the morning crowd to take a step up from the readily-available diner fare. I wish Red Couch better luck.

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Good news, locavores: according to an article in Tuesday’s News-Miner, we now have another option to buy meat from locally raised and slaughtered animals.  Tanana Valley Meats has been certified by the USDA to slaughter cattle and hogs, and they will start butchering and retail sales immediately, in the site once operated by B-Y Farms at 9 Mile Richardson Highway.

From an ecological standpoint, this is fantastic: especially in a place like Alaska, we could stand to cut down our consumption of foods that traveled from Outside to get here — whether the thousand-mile salad or the thousand-mile steak.  To me, though, the more important thing is that it’s a local industries, where the money we pay the merchants stays here, rather than getting sent to Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and California (the top five cattle-holding states in 2009, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service).

Also important is that we have a closer relationship with the producers of our food.  Since we in Interior Alaska are their primary (maybe only) market, we have a much greater chance to influence the direction of their business.  For example, one of the owners boasts that “These [cattle] are not grass fed, these are grain fed.”  From what I understand (admittedly little), grain-fed cattle are fattier and less healthy, and their meat less flavorful, than grass-fed.  If enough of us put pressure on the owners to change the way their cattle are raised, we have a real chance of succeeding.  In a sense, the locals become partners in the business.  That relationship is far less likely at chain grocery stores like Safeway and Fred Meyer.

There’s only one bad thing I can say about their business: the retail outlet will (for now) continue to be at 9 Mile Richardson Highway.  Who lives withing walking distance of such a place?  While it’s good that the old B-Y Farms facility will be re-used and not go to waste — heavens, we have enough abandoned buildings already! — the location effectively shuts out the business of those too young, too old, too infirm, or too poor to drive.  While the Green Line travels between Fairbanks and North Pole, I don’t think it stops near Tanana Valley Meats.

I think a better location would be downtown Fairbanks, or even downtown North Pole, within five minutes’ walk of a bus stop.  In their current location, I may go there a half-dozen times a year. But if they were within a few minutes’ walk of a bus stop, especially in an area where I had other shopping or errands to do, I’d buy meat there every week.

Not having worked in the butchering business, I don’t know how feasible it would be, at this stage in their business. Perhaps the costs of transporting the meat are currently prohibitive.  But most grocery stores don’t get whole animals; they get primal cuts from distant slaughterhouses that are then turned into steaks, roasts, etc. — so it’s at least theoretically possible.  I hope that, in time, Tanana Valley Meats will be able to adjust their retail model to serve people in the population centers where they already live and work.

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