Salamatof Native Association, Inc. and its partners make Williwaw an Alaska destination stop
Months after Williwaw debuted in downtown Anchorage, the Salamatof Native Association, Inc. (SNAI) posted a few pictures of the new restaurant and music venue on its Facebook page with a simple message to shareholders.
“Be proud,” it read in part.
Williwaw sprang to life in early summer 2015, housed in a freshly-renovated, 60-year-old building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and F Street. The three-story structure built for visitors’ dining, drinking and dancing pleasure is a joint business venture between partners SNAI, the team behind neighboring Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, Pfeffer Development and Pentlarge Law Group.
“Williwaw has really created an atmosphere unlike anything else in Alaska,” SNAI President and CEO Chris Monfor said. “From our standpoint, it’s been a great partnership. We genuinely feel like we own a vibrant piece of not only Anchorage, but Alaska.
“We’re excited to see Williwaw grow.”
Offer something to everyone
In the two decades since Humpy’s first opened, it’s become a favorite neighborhood alehouse for Alaskans and tourists alike. Quality food and entertainment are options patrons have come to count on.
But the owners have also shown a flair for the creative. Before opening Williwaw, the group also opened Subzero, a martini bar known for a more quiet atmosphere, and Flattop Pizza, an Italian-themed combo restaurant and pool hall. Both additions share the same side of the street as Humpy’s.
Williwaw now sits just across the street.
“Not-so secretly, we’ve always tried to have something to offer to everyone who visits us,” said Director of Operations Peter Burns. “We also don’t do business thinking about why we shouldn’t do something.
“Instead, we’ve think why can’t we do it? Let’s find a way to make it work.”
The Humpy’s team kicked around ideas to expand their brand. Those discussions included insight from SNAI officials Burns had known for years.
Preservation and protection
SNAI is a Native Corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA), with corporate offices and headquarters located in Kenai. The majority of the corporation’s 151 shareholders reside on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Village of Salamatof was a recognized location prior to the 1850s. It was originally spelled “Salamatowa”, which was the surname of a Russian officer on one of the exploring expeditions sent to study Alaska.
In 1850, the spelling was changed to the present Salamatof by Elia G. Wosnesenski, another Russian explorer from the Academy of Sciences. The ancient village of Salamatof was located in approximately the same area that present-day maps locate Salamatof Creek and Salamatof Lake.
SNAI sets out to preserve and protect its culture and heritage. The association’s primary business focus is on land sales and development.
“By investing in Williwaw, we’re showing our shareholders positive ways to diversify our holdings and make long-term investments,” Monfor said. “We had good synergy with the other partners right away and it’s made for a unique business situation.”
Acts that want to play Alaska
Today, Williwaw features plenty of options for visitors.
A SteamDot coffee shop and a Humpy’s-run restaurant that seats several hundred people occupy the first floor. The restaurant focuses on fresh, local cuisine.
On the same level, an almost-amphitheater like stage and seating area has allowed the business to book more well-known national acts indoors. Those same artists would have likely played outdoors in the past.
“Common Kings” performed the first Williwaw show in July. The band was followed by wide array of artists including R&B singer/songwriter Ginuwine, Blues veteran Walter Trout and rocker Andrew W.K.
Ska punk band “Reel Big Fish” helped ring in the New Year on Dec. 31.
“We welcome all comers,” Burns said. “We’re doing our best to make Williwaw an Alaska concert destination.
“And that’s not only for the concert goers. Our facility gives us more credibility around the industry and should attract artists who always wanted to play Alaska.”
Williwaw also acquired Blues Central’s liquor license and name rights after the famed midtown Anchorage location closed in 2014. Now, the second floor is home to a new Blues Central complete with a Prohibition-era, speakeasy feel and look.
When summer comes around, the rooftop bar should always be popular. It features a smaller bar and grill.
“The rooftop setting is phenomenal,” Monfor said. “I’ll continue to visit Williwaw as much as my schedule allows. In the meantime, I’ve got a list of about 30 bands I’d like to throw at the Humpy’s guys and see if we can get the acts to play here.”
“We’re going to make it work”
Since opening in June, Burns and the Williwaw staff have worked tirelessly to fine tune its identity and figure out how it best fits into the Alaska landscape. With the help of SNAI and its other partners, the venture appears to be successful.
“We aren’t ones to open the doors and figure out things as we go,” Burns said. “Living in Alaska, we all do our fair share of traveling. We see places in Seattle, Portland and other vibrant markets.
“Our task was to put a Humpy’s spin on a different presentation, and I think we’ve done it. Our way might be a little off the beaten path, but we’re doing what we do best.”
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