Freddie’s Roadhouse, which has served as a gathering place and organizing force in the Caribou Hills for nearly 10 years, will not open this winter.
The family business, owned by Freddie Pollard of Kenai, is located 16 miles out on Oilwell Road from Ninilchik. Soldotna’s Sheila Pollard, Freddie’s daughter, said the family is seeking an agreement with a group or individual to take over management of the roadhouse, but so far has come up empty.
“Our family has been up in the Caribou Hills since we moved to Alaska in 1978,” Sheila Pollard said. “It was very much a family undertaking when we took on that business.
“It was unfortunate, but the main issue is it just wasn’t making money. How long can we continue to help something along that isn’t financially viable?”
Sheila Pollard said the family began the process of purchasing the property in late fall of 2010. Freddie’s Roadhouse, formerly Rocky’s Straight Inn, started business in 2011.
Freddie’s became more and more of a gateway to the Caribou Hills as the years went on. Snowmachiners, mushers, fat bikers and skiers could all stop by for a burger and drink. The Facebook page became a hub of knowledge on the condition of Oilwell Road and other happenings in the hills.
Freddie’s also became important to events in the hills. The Tustumena 200 used it as a checkpoint before using it as a start and finish line the last two years. Freddie’s Midnight Run also was held there for mushers.
For snowmachiners, Freddie’s organized regular drag races. The Way Out Women ride, which is in its 16th year and has raised over a million dollars to help those receiving a cancer diagnosis on the Kenai Peninsula, was held at Freddie’s each year it was open.
Sheila Pollard’s brainchild, Fat Freddie’s Bike Race and Ramble, also brought fat bike racing to the Caribou Hills the past three years.
“Because it is such a community-centered business, we probably kept it open longer than we otherwise would have,” Pollard said. “It was a gathering place and a big part of the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers. We all enjoyed it.”
Pollard said the family approached the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers, a nonprofit organization that maintains the trails in the hills, with a proposal to take over Freddie’s, but the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers declined. Attempts to reach the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers for this story were not successful.
“I think the Caribou Hills will be fine,” Pollard said. “People still love going up. A big part of it always has been cabin hopping and visiting friends, and the heart of that community is still alive and thriving.”
Some events, like the Fat Freddie’s Bike Race and Ramble and Freddie’s Midnight Run, are permanently on hold.
The Tustumena 200 also will not be held this winter. Tami Murray, president of the Tustumena 200 board of directors, said the closure of Freddie’s was not the deciding factor in not holding the race, but not having Freddie’s is one of the reasons for no race.
Murray said Freddie’s was a great place to start the race the past two years because it sits high in the hills and has snow.
“I believe the community was blessed to have the Pollards around,” Murray said. “Freddie spent so much time and money, and we all know they operated at a loss up there. They made major upgrades to it and made it a place to go.”
Murray said Freddie’s was a great asset to snowmachiners, like herself, who don’t have a cabin in the hills. She said in addition to warmth and meals, Freddie’s also made her feel safer because there were always people there, including Freddie himself, who would come to rescue a snowmachine or car in distress.
As for the Tustumena 200, Murray said the board will reorganize in the next few months with the aim of putting on the race again.
Kathy Lopeman, president of Way Out Women, plans to make the event bigger and better than ever despite Freddie’s closing.
That doesn’t mean Freddie’s won’t be missed. Lopeman and her husband, Bill, live full time in the Caribou Hills.
“It’s a big loss,” Lopeman said. “Once or twice a week we’d go up to the lodge for burgers, and it was a good place to park a snowmachine or a four-wheeler.”
Lopeman said Freddie’s employees Chris and Steve Calabrese gave the roadhouse a family atmosphere, particularly during the holidays.
Way Out Women used to be a three-day event at Freddie’s — check-in, games and music on Friday; a ride to the Caribou Lakes and dinner auction on Saturday; then drag races Sunday.
This year, the dinner will be at 5 p.m. on Feb. 22 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, with a Mardi Gras theme. The ride will be Feb. 29, using a Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers parking lot building to stage the ride.
Lopeman said by having the money-raising portion be just one day in town, the goal is to raise $120,000 after raising $48,000 last year. Lopeman also said WOW will be a nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status for the first time this year, also helping donations.
“We’re going to turn this into a positive,” she said.
The snowmachine drag races also will live on thanks to Matt Brown. Brown had drag-raced at Freddie’s for the past three years.
“The only reason I went to the hills to drag race is the Pollards are great people,” Brown said. “They’re very family oriented and I always had a great time.”
Once Freddie’s closed, there was no way Brown was going to let the drag racing stop.
“We have the fastest sleds in the state,” Brown said. “It’d be insane not to have this anymore. Especially with this group of people.”
The drag races ride again Saturday at Arness Lake off South Miller Loop. Brown said to take the turn onto South Miller and signs will lead the way.
The gates open and sign-ups begin at noon, with racing starting at 1 p.m. sharp. Getting there early allows spectators to get one of the coveted spots along the airstrip, so they can roll down their windows and watch. The cost is $5 for a spectator and $20 per racer per class.
Brown said the sled of Freddie Pollard Jr. could go over 100 mph on the 400-foot strip.
As for the future of Freddie’s, Sheila Pollard said the problem is that the building is constructed in such a way that opening it up for a day or two would take days to prepare the building, and days to shut it down again. Opening it up for an event just won’t work.
“I’m optimistic in the future someone is willing to take that on,” she said of opening Freddie’s Roadhouse again. “Whether that is our family or a different group, who knows?
“There’s a tinge of sadness that the era is stopped for now, but the Caribou Hills is still a wonderful place to go and recreate.”
Pollard said the parking lot at Freddie’s Roadhouse will no longer be plowed. She added the Cabin Hoppers have parking lots in the hills, but only members can park there. The Cabin Hoppers provide updates on conditions in the hills, along with the Caribou Hills Communications Facebook page.