Transitioning from her 150-square-foot food truck located seasonally on the Homer Spit to a space four times the size and with a large adjoining deck overlooking Beluga Lake, Ashley Steiner’s business, The Tickled Pear will now be open year-round.
Steiner and her four employees, several who have worked at the food truck, are now serving their Mexican fare in a sit-down restaurant that includes five tables and chairs and a beer and wine bar indoors, and a large deck with picnic tables and bar stools outdoors.
Originally opened in 2018 as a food truck on the Spit, the business name is a play on the prickly pear cactus whose fruit is a staple in Mexican cuisine, which Steiner strives to emulate from her years traveling through the country developing a deep love for the culture and food.
“I never experienced real Mexican food until I visited Mexico and I was blown away by how different it was from the American-Mexican food I’d had,” she said.
Having learned from local restaurant owners, she uses their tips and tricks to stay true to the authenticity of her menu.
“I want my food to properly represent all the delicious food I’ve eaten in Mexico,” she said. “Most satisfying for me is when Mexican people eat at my spot and leave happy. Once, a man thanked me for providing his family with an amazing meal that reminded him of his mom’s cooking.”
Born in Homer and raised in Nebraska, as a child, she and her family traveled all over the United States, introducing her to different foods. While in middle school, she wanted to cook when she grew up. She worked gas station restaurants in high school and after returning to Homer and Homer High in 2007, she attended culinary school in Omaha and achieved an associate degree in Applied Sciences Culinary Arts.
In 2011, Steiner moved back to Homer and worked at Wasabi’s until 2018, starting out at the pantry station, moving to the saute line, and then to sous chef, managing the kitchen and learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business from owners, Colt Belmonte and Dali Fraizer.
“Culinary school taught me the basics, but Dali taught me the real-life situations of restaurants and the most important things, like cooking high-quality food quickly and efficiently, being consistent, and keeping customers happy,” she said.
In 2018, she left the restaurant to run her own food truck.
“When I started out, I didn’t know everything and did a lot of additional learning, but I had a good handle on most things, thanks to Dali,” she said.
Knowing what her menu was going to be and what kind of space and equipment she needed, Steiner custom ordered her trailer in Portland and had it shipped to Anchorage. She opened on May 9 on the Homer Spit, operating seasonally.
Able to continue through the COVID pandemic due to the socially distant nature of food trucks, running a sit-down restaurant was a long-term goal for Steiner and one she shared with friends in the business.
“I saw the stress and amount of work and money it takes to run a restaurant, the struggles to keep staff, and all the tasks required on a daily basis and that wasn’t something I was interested in taking on for a few years,” she shared.
When Stephanie Greer approached her about a restaurant space she built as part of Homer Seaplane Base, a collection of rental cabins and businesses overlooking Beluga Lake, Steiner was wooed by the new construction.
“When I saw the beautiful brand new construction and the location, I began envisioning myself in the space,” she said. “Stephanie was gracious enough to let me pick the equipment I’d need for the kitchen and we hit the ground running, ordering supplies with a goal to be open on May 5 for Cinco de Mayo.”
Steiner and her employees, all local women, celebrated opening day on target, so busy that they sold out of food. Eager to expand her offerings, she is planning for Chef Experience menus, collaborating with other local chefs, reservation-only menus a couple of times a month with different menu options, a brunch menu, live music on the deck, heaters on the deck in the cooler months, and more. She will be traveling to Mexico this fall and incorporating Mexican artwork upon her return.
She also plans to continue her catering business, catering weddings and parties.
“With COVID, weddings have changed and people have come around to having a more casual reception instead of a traditional plated and seated meal,” she said. “And it’s great for me because I don’t like to cook the same thing all the time. Catering allows me to be creative in working with my clients on different menu options.”
Excited to provide longer-term employment, Steiner plans to close for a month or two during the winter so she can continue to travel.
“Traveling is a huge part of my life and not something I’m willing to give up,” she said. “I don’t want my restaurant to be the only thing I do.”
Selling out of food on opening day, Steiner shared that she is grateful for her customers and those following her from her food truck to her restaurant.
“I’m going to miss the Spit life and the community out there,” she said. “I met so many really nice people and now I’m excited to not be weather dependent, and to be able to offer indoor and outdoor seating.”
The restaurant is currently open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Monday. Steiner is still working out her schedule, getting a feel for what days are slower and working a schedule around that. Her goal is to be open on the days that other restaurants are closed, providing dining options.
Find The Tickled Pear at 1308 Lake Shore Drive and her menu on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and her website thetickledpear.com.