Anchorage Alaska’s restaurant scene has been growing for many years, thanks to several entrepreneurs. None have had more of a hand in the growth than Laile Fairbairn, president of Locally Grown Restaurants. Together with her partners she runs the Snow City Cafe, Spenard Roadhouse, South Restaurant + Coffeehouse and Crush Bistro. Laile’s an active member of the Anchorage community which adds fuel to her success as consumers support those companies who support them and their friends. Her restaurants are "must see" locations when visiting Alaska's biggest city.
What is your role in the food industry?
I am the president of Locally Grown Restaurants and the managing partner of four local restaurants in Anchorage, Alaska.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
I wanted to open my own breakfast place after deciding to move back home. I grew up in Anchorage and then worked in advertising in Seattle for five years after college and loved the restaurant scene there. When I moved back to Alaska, I knew I wanted to do something different than advertising so I thought about what I enjoyed in life -- and going out to breakfast came to mind! So I decided to open my own breakfast place. How hard could it be? (ha!) To gain experience, I got a job for a few months at Dianne’s (now operating as Wild Fork Catering) which served sandwiches and salads. After that, I was hired by my friends to manage their very successful bar and restaurant, Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse. They knew I wanted to start my own place so they were very supportive while I worked there.
What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?
I was inspired by the women who started The Silver Palate gourmet shop and wrote their namesake quintessential cookbook; Ina Garten and her shop and cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa; the Pasta & Co. shop in Seattle; and, Jo Ann Asher in Anchorage, who opened Sacks Cafe and ran it for 30+ years. We became friends and then business partners when we started Spenard Roadhouse together. Women who started their own restaurants inspire me.
What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the food industry?
Restaurants being more mindful of dietary and allergen issues. And processing food less -- letting the ingredient be the hero.
Tell us about an industry professional who influenced you most?
This isn’t who influenced me the most but it was a big lightbulb moment. I went to the Bar & Nightclub Show in Vegas and heard the head of Bellagio’s Food & Beverage talk about how they switched to all fresh juices for their cocktails. He said if they can do it, we can certainly do it. It made me recognize that we need to push ourselves to offer the best product and find solutions rather than just settle for what’s easy.
What's your big splurge food item? Any particular brand you're willing to pay more for?
Calorie splurge is pasta. Money splurge is organic produce and fresh juice cocktails. I’ll pay more for Fire Island Bakery bread (local bakery). It’s the best.
What keeps you going as a food professional?
I love interacting with guests and staff, and creating awesome management teams.
What do you view as your greatest achievement to-date as a food professional?
Raising money for causes I care about -- employees and their medical bills (we offer health insurance but that doesn’t cover it all), candidate Obama, local schools, Planned Parenthood, food banks, etc.
What’s your favorite food to make at home?
What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
What three ingredients could you not live without?
Olive oil, garlic, salt
Name the food/ingredient you can’t live without.
Apple, cheese, salami, baguette – together
Tell us about a memorable meal you’ve had.
Alinea in Chicago. It was crazy. We laughed throughout the entire meal because we couldn’t believe what was happening. Really showed me what an experience dining out can be. And we got to meet chef Grant Achatz! He showed us around the kitchen. It was, of course, immaculate.
Who in the food industry do you most admire?
Danny Meyer. He seems so thoughtful about his approach to running restaurants. I also like the Zimmerman guys.
What food or meal makes you happiest?
Cheesy pasta with bacon. I always hope there’s a mistake at our restaurant and this gets put on the crew table. I would never order unless on vacation where calories don’t count.
What food or ingredient would you never use or eat?
Anchovies, black olives, refried beans -- they gross me out. I’m not that adventurous.
Where would you most like to live? Why?
On the water near Seattle but keep a place in Anchorage. I’m getting a little tired of the long winters in AK but would always want to keep a place here. A waterfront property in a warm place is my dream. And I love Seattle.
Please describe your perfect day.
My perfect day starts with a breakfast out at a restaurant that I don’t own and there’s no wait, then a hike on a sunny day in AK with my family and our new dog, Henry.
Tell us about your favorite vacation destination.
We like to travel internationally a lot but if I have to pick one place, I would say it’s anywhere in Hawaii because it’s only a five hour flight from Alaska and it’s just easy. Current favorite is the Big Island and I would want to stay at the Mauna Kea Resort. Ahhh! I want to go there now!