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Fire Island bakery hopes to serve beer and wine in Airport Heights

Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop in Airport Heights on Wednesday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Anchorage's Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop wants to serve beer and wine at its Airport Heights location, a step that would make it one of a few places in town where customers can buy a drink in what's mainly a residential neighborhood.

The bakery, at East 16th Avenue and Logan Street, opened in 2015. Ever since, customers and neighbors have suggested a beer and wine license, said Rachel Pennington, who co-owns the business with her parents, Jerry Lewanski and Janis Fleischman.

"What the Airport Heights (customers) asked for, and said they would appreciate and flock to, is a really nice IPA and a piece of focaccia," Pennington said.

The move comes as the bakery, which opened as a small shop near downtown close to a decade ago, also prepares to expand into a South Anchorage development with Anchorage Brewing Co. later this summer. In the past year, the brewery created a limited-edition beer called "Day Old White Beer," made from 150 pounds of Fire Island sourdough.

The Airport Heights bakery has proposed offering a small, high-end selection of beer and wine, curated by the local craft liquor store La Bodega, Pennington said.

The owners applied for a beer and wine license with state alcohol regulators earlier this year. The application is still being processed, meaning alcohol wouldn't appear on the menu for at least a few months, said Jason Croft, the general manager of the Airport Heights location and Lewanski and Fleischman's son-in-law.

Croft said managers don't plan to change the bakery's 6 p.m. closing time, though the hours may someday be extended into the evening, Croft said. He said there's no intention of the bakery ever functioning as a restaurant or a bar. The vision is a spot for people to walk after work to meet friends, Croft said.

"We're adding something to the experience of living in Anchorage that isn't really available to many people right now," Croft said.

There are no plans for a beer and wine license at the bakery's flagship on G Street near downtown. Croft said the bakery has encountered pushback from neighbors about the idea, even in casual conversation. But Croft, who lives in Airport Heights, said he hears constant demand from neighbors and friends. He said the bakery is expanding its outdoor seating area and tested out the idea of selling beer and wine this past summer at farmers market fundraisers.

Word of the license application recently sparked chatter on the Airport Heights Community Council Facebook page. Some voiced concern about alcohol in the neighborhood. Others worried about proximity to the elementary school.

But most comments were supportive. The Airport Heights Community Council plans to lend a letter of support to the proposal, said council president Carolyn Ramsey. She said the "overwhelming majority" of those who have spoken up loved the idea of meeting up with neighbors for a drink in walking distance of their home.

Ramsey said she didn't expect proximity to the elementary school to be an issue because the kids are in grade school and the bakery won't be a drinking destination like a bar. If any issues popped up, Ramsey said she expected Fire Island's owners would work with neighbors.

Croft said the bakery has been moving cautiously to avoid forcing anything on customers or the neighborhood.

"What we're going for is to add to the Fire Island experience we've already developed in the Airport Heights neighborhood — being a central meeting place," Croft said.

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