Rosco’s Pizza, a longtime fixture in the Ninilchik community, will be changing hands in the near future.
After 13 years of co-owning and operating the restaurant, Ross and Carol Cameron are looking to pass the business on to reliable hands and retire.
“We’re very grateful that Ninilchik has given us great support. The business has been lovely, we’re still in love with it, but times are limited in our lives, so it’s time to move that on,” said Ross Cameron during an interview last Friday. “We’re looking to retire and we’re looking for the right person to move in here. We’ll keep the restaurant open until we do sell, but it’s time for our last chapters.”
The Camerons came to Ninilchik after years of working in the food industry, both in Alaska and various locations in the Lower 48. They met at Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge, just north of Talkeetna, in 1999 — Ross working as the resort’s executive chef and Carol as the employee dining room monitor. They then worked together for a time at the Northstar California ski resort near Lake Tahoe before venturing back to Alaska — this time to the Kenai Peninsula, where Ross worked as a cook at the Sunrise Inn in Cooper Landing.
“We did that for a few years, back and forth there, probably until about 2005,” Cameron said. “And then in 2005, a job came up at Grand Targhee as the food and beverage director, so we moved there and bought a house, and discovered rather rapidly that we liked Alaska better.”
The Camerons split their time between Cooper Landing and the Grand Targhee Resort before deciding in 2008 to live in Alaska year-round. After a number of successful venues under their belts, the thought of owning their own place had long been on their minds.
According to biographical information provided by Ross Cameron to Homer News, their primary goal was to stay on the Alaska outdoors playground of the Kenai Peninsula, and a yearslong search began with Cooper Landing, Homer and Seward as the starting focus.
“But a spot in the charming village of Ninilchik halfway between Soldotna and Homer on the west side of the peninsula caught (our) attention: the Happy Wok Café,” Cameron wrote.
Ninilchik checked off a number of boxes for the Camerons, according to the provided bio: easy river and saltwater access, a growing community, outdoors-oriented environment, great growth potential, the overwhelming natural and cultural beauty of the place, destination draws such as the Kenai Peninsula Fairground and world-class fishing, and Ninilchik’s unique history and tribal culture.
“Part of the attraction of Ninilchik was that it was rural Alaska and it was community-oriented,” Cameron said. “It seemed like a natural fit.”
The Camerons purchased the Happy Wok property and remodeled it for their business needs, gearing it towards a top-notch, casual, family-friendly, full-service restaurant based on local and regional marketing research, according to the bio.
“With Carol’s superior pizzeria experience at Lynx Creek Pizzeria in Denali and (my) extensive culinary and managerial know-how, a pizzeria with Alaskan personality and thoughtful food was the natural way to go,” Ross Cameron wrote.
Rosco’s first commenced operation on Nov. 18, 2010, with a soft opening.
“That was kind of a scary time to open up because that’s the start of the slow season. But that gave us an opportunity to figure out what the community was,” Cameron said.
Community response was immediate and largely positive. According to the bio, a handful of local leaders immediately recognized the potential of Rosco’s, and with a few local promotions, some help with dressing up the place and some great word of mouth, Rosco’s was an immediate, but still modest, success.
As the restaurant settled into the community, the Camerons adapted the menu they’d developed to meet both the needs and wants of the clientele and the wants and talents of Rosco’s employees.
“Still featured on the menu today is the Wild Willie’s Blues Burger created by Rosco’s first lunch cook, William Holterman. Another is the Ronnie’s Special pizza crafted by dishwasher Ronnie of The Deadliest Catch fame (yes, that Ronnie and yes, Rosco’s pizza has made it out to the Bering Sea!). The most popular cheese stick on the menu is Joey’s Roni Stix named for early hiree Joseph Cooper,” Ross Cameron wrote.
Rosco’s also features an extensive daily specials list that give Ross a creative outlet and mixes up the regular fare for the locals, keeping things new and fresh. They also committed early on to making all breads, not just their pizza dough, in-house and providing a rotating, made-from-scratch dessert menu that today has expanded into an online wholesale product line with an extensive, loyal group of consumers, according to the bio.
Outside the kitchen, Rosco’s also engaged with the community in multiple ways, including sponsoring local Iditarod mushers and providing pizza for mushers on the Iditarod trail, as well as supporting the Salmonfest music festival.
“Rosco’s still has the only complete set of promotional Salmonstock/fest posters in existence hanging on the walls,” Cameron wrote.
Aside from the Salmonfest posters, the restaurant’s interior emanates a unique Southcentral Alaska atmosphere born of sourcing locally.
“Our wall murals feature the unique art from local artist Linda Smith. Much of Rosco’s wall décor is picked from local galleries, shops and even the Kenai mountain trails. Our rustic log furniture is hand-built by local Anchor River craftsman Ken Scofield. Retail items are locally produced or crafted here on the Kenai Peninsula,” Cameron wrote. “Stamp our dining room ‘Made in Alaska.’”
Today, Rosco’s is a destination restaurant that attracts customers both near and far, from locals that know where to go to get a good meal, to Anchorage patrons that stop annually at Rosco’s when visiting the Kenai to play in the spring, to Outside tourists that make Rosco’s a part of their yearly rituals.
“We’ve been very pleased with the support we’ve had over the years,” Cameron said. “We’ve got a great contingent of loyal customers that, every time they come in and see the for-sale sign, they give us guff for it.”
When the restaurant is sold, Ross Cameron said he plans on sticking around for a season as a consultant for the new owner, if they wish for him to do so. After that, they’ll see where they might go.
“Both of us are nomads by nature; this is the longest for both of us that we’re stayed in one place for our entire lives, other than when we were adolescents,” Cameron said. “What do they say, the world is your cupcake?”