Homer residents and visitors may soon notice a little something missing when they drive down Pioneer Avenue — the iconic, Alice in Wonderland-esque tea cups that practically jump out into the street will be taken down as Cafe Cups closes its doors.
The restaurant had its last night of service on Saturday, a bittersweet experience for chef Pavel Mikhail. He and his wife Jessica have run the business for the last three years under a lease-to-buy option with owners Jennifer and Dave Olson. He said they’ve decided not to buy, and are leaving to instead focus on other aspects of their lives.
Mikhail has been working for the restaurant on and off since 2004.
“We’re going to kind of take it easy,” he said of his family’s next steps. “And see kind of what happens next organically. … It’s been a lot of hard work keeping this place going.”
Mikhail said it was not an easy decision to not take the option to buy the restaurant, but that sometimes one has to take a step back “and see what’s in your head, your heart, your gut, to see what really feels right.”
Another contributing factor is the lack of summer help available in Homer, Mikhail said.
“Since I came to Homer in ‘03, I’ve seen a steady decline in quality summer help that’s been coming in,” he said. “And it just seems like that housing has diminished in a lot of ways. The Airbnb thing is really starting to take away a lot of the monthly rentals. And I don’t blame all those people for wanting to make their money on their … nightly rentals, but we just can’t find the skilled employees that we really need to keep a business up to a certain standard.”
Mikhail, who has been a cook for more than 30 years, said he doesn’t want to compromise what he loves because the skilled help isn’t there.
Still, it’s been a fun experience being able to serve the Homer community for the last several years, he said. Mikhail praised the local farms and producers who he’s worked with to incorporate as much local food as possible into his dishes.
“And just to be a place in the community that people can come in, get great food, and a nice atmosphere winter or summer, and just be able to feel good and relax,” he said. “… We’ve loved all of that. We’ve loved interacting with the community.”
Not only has the restaurant made a name for itself in town over the years, but the building it sits in is stuffed to the brim with Homer history as well. It was first home to the Homer Women’s Club. Built in 1934, it was originally located in the parking lot of AJ’s Steakhouse in Old Town. The Women’s Club was the town meeting hall, the place to meet for Sunday school and the site of Saturday night dances back in the day.
The building was later moved to Pioneer Avenue and held a number of different business before Cafe Cups, including the office of the Homer News.
Mikhail described running Cafe Cups as a work of passion that often required the use of blood, sweat and tears.
“The restaurant business is not a money maker,” he said. “It’s not something where you’re going to be a millionaire. You really have to love it and really be into it, to really put in all the time and effort to make it great.”
It looks like the building will be staying in restaurant hands, as the Little Mermaid has expressed interest in moving from their location on the Homer Spit into the Cafe Cups building, Mikhail said.
Saturday’s last service was a mixed bag of emotions, Mikhail said. His parents recently came up to visit and eat at the restaurant for the first time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
“It’s going to feel very exciting, I think, because it’s going to be very … I’m going to be able to get back to my older routines and start living life in a lot of ways,” he said while prepping for the last dinner service. “But it’s also going to be a little sad. I was thinking about the last few plates I’ll be putting out.”
Either way, Mikhail said it was sure to be a special night.