Sheryl Vitale and Anna Wall are the mother/daughter duo behind Red Bird Kitchen, providing dinners, desserts, cookies and catering around the community and the state.
Currently operating from a kitchen on their property five miles out East End Road, the two have been mixing things up in and out of the kitchen since they first started serving their culinary creations, rotating between fairs and festivals up the road and in town, including the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, the Bear Paw Festival and Renaissance Fair in Anchorage, Kenai River Fest, and the Nutcracker Faire in Homer.
In Homer, they also cook out of their food truck at locations including Grace Ridge Brewing, previously operated a cafe out of a building near the Gear Shed, and spend their summers on the Homer Spit, serving out of a tiny kitchen on one of the boardwalks.
They purchased their property out East End Road in 2000, living in one of the buildings, operating the other as a vacation rental, and utilizing other’s commercial kitchens, like Coal Point’s, to prepare food for fairs and provide goodies to local shops and businesses. Between 2008 and 2012, they converted their small garage into a commercial kitchen from which they cooked, and in 2014, converted their larger garage into their current commercial kitchen, early on making baked goods and ice cream, and preparing food for fairs and festivals. They also worked rural mail delivery, subbing for USPS employees.
After years in the business, they have learned what is good and not good for them. For example, between October 2019 and October 2021, they ran Red Bird Café out of a building near the Gear Shed, keeping their drive-thru open during COVID-19.
Coffee was a big push for them and they were up at five in the morning to open at 6 a.m., and open seven days a week.
“That was way too many days and hours for us,” Wall said.
All the while that they ran the cafe, during the winter months they also offered their vacation rental, and made and delivered cakes and cookies to Vida’s Thai Food downtown and Coal Towne Coffee on the Spit.
“Back then, if we had 10 quiet minutes, we would come up with something new to do,” Vitale said.
For the past three years, Red Bird Kitchen has been offering Friday Night Take & Bake Dinners from their East End location. These dinners rotate weekly and can be ordered online, then picked up and baked at home in an oven-safe container, and include a full dinner with salad and two sides. They also offer frozen entrees that customers can order online and pick up, and that currently include two types of lasagna.
They have a wide selection of baked goods, including rum cakes that can be ordered online and cookies that they sell at a variety of locations around town and are also available to be ordered online for local pickup. Flavors include pecan-walnut chocolate chip, gluten-free peanut butter, ginger doodle, double chocolate, an oatmeal cookie and, their newest cookie flavor, HRMT. Pronounced hermit, this cookie includes hazelnut, rye, miso, toasted almonds and coffee. Always expanding their reach, they are also putting together cookie shipments, testing shipping to different areas around the country.
Vitale and Wall have operated their food truck in the spring months at Grace Ridge Brewing and other locations. Last winter, they opened their commercial kitchen two days a week and invited customers in to have lunch. Last summer was their first summer operating as Three Odd Ducks on the Homer Spit, serving sandwiches, cookies, and boba drinks. With one person leaving that operation, this summer they will be known as simply Odd Ducks, adding breakfast burritos, muffins, smoothies, granola and whatever other creations they think up to their previous menu, all made from scratch.
The locations from which they operate throughout the year aren’t the only thing that changes. Their business name has evolved from being unnamed to Viola’s, named after Vitale’s aunt, then Off the Grill, Snak’s 5th Avenue, Mostly Mediterranean, and Red Bird Kitchen.
Originally from northern Florida, Vitale came to Homer in 1981 when a friend gifted her a plane ticket to Anchorage. While exploring the state, she bumped into a former high school classmate in Homer. And then, she met Wall’s father. She returned to California to finish the last half semester of school, and then traveled back and forth between California and Homer for a few years before finally settling in 1983, the year Wall was born.
In the early days working fairs like the Renaissance Fair in Anchorage, Vitale sold bratwurst and made her own barbecue shredded beef. When Wall turned 9, Vitale stopped doing fairs and began working regular jobs. With a penchant for changing things up, she worked a variety of different jobs in Homer, from waiting tables at Hogg Brothers Restaurant to being a provider at the Community Mental Health Center, and was eventually hired to work in the kitchen at South Peninsula Hospital with very little experience other than preparing meals for her and her daughter.
“I knew nothing about cooking when I started there,” she said. “I think they hired me because they knew I had a kitchen in my house.”
After working at SPH, Vitale got a paper route and then worked for eight years as the Child Care Program Coordinator at Haven House.
After Wall graduated college, the two traveled to a family reunion in New York and came up with the name Red Bird Kitchen. They sold bratwurst and barbecue beef at the Nutcracker Faire and then, after a few years, moved on to serving Mediterranean food, including a Thai steak sandwich and a hot Italian sandwich.
Their longest stint has been at the Alaska State Fair, where they started out 13 years ago at the end of the Purple Trail on the far side of the fair, operating as Snak’s 5th Avenue and then Mostly Mediterranean, offering their Mediterranean menu.
After applying year after year to move closer to the action, they have for the past several years been cooking in a log cabin kitchen near the entertainment area. For the first year in the log cabin, they offered their Mediterranean menu and since then have provided a Thai menu that includes Pad Thai, curries, Thai wrap, boiled peanuts, Tom Kha soup, dumplings, and fresh rolls, along with Thai iced tea, iced coffee, and Horchata. A few years back, they changed their name from Mostly Mediterranean to Red Bird Kitchen.
“We got tired of people saying what food is and is not Mediterranean,” Vitale said. “That why it was called Mostly Mediterranean.”
With such a variety of dishes they prepare, the two shared that they enjoy trying a variety of recipes, keeping what they like from any particular recipe, and tossing what they don’t. Of the two, Wall has the sense for reading recipes.
“I like different recipes for the same thing and picking out the parts I like from all of them to get what I think sounds best,” Wall said.
Vitale and Wall both thrive on change, and mix things up they do. They enjoy working together, rarely disagree, and alternate duties based on their individual preferences and personalities. For example, Vitale is a morning person and Wall, an evening person. Vitale answers the phones, while Wall types on the phone. Wall updates the website, while Vitale steers clear of the computer as much as she can.
“Growing up, I raised my younger brother,” Vitale said. “I used to tell him that the difference between us was that he would look at the pot and see if the fire was on before he’d jump in, and I’d jump in and then look over the edge to see if the fire was on.”
As for mother and daughter …
“I look first and mom is always ready to do the next thing,” Wall said. “That’s why it works for us. She wants to jump and I can plan for us a little bit before we leap.”
Their current kitchen is 23 feet by 40 feet and includes two household ovens, two commercial dishwashers, three sinks, four fridge/freezer combinations and a variety of mixers, pots, pans and an assortment of other kitchenware, appliances, and such.
Right now, they shop and prep on Wednesdays, cook on Thursdays, and spend Wednesdays to Saturdays making cookies. Add in menu planning, special orders for birthday cakes and occasionally catering an office party, rehearsal dinner or wedding in the non-summer months, and the two have their hands just full enough to keep them hopping and happy.
Now through the first week of May, they will continue providing Friday Night Dinners and begin offering cookies by mail. In April, they will set up their bus somewhere around town, then beginning mid to late May, they will operate Odd Ducks on the Homer Spit until late August when they will head to the State Fair.
At the heart of their kitchen and cooking is a love for making new recipes, and a joy for working together. They consider themselves successful because they are still in business.
Eager to expand, their short-term goal is to find a commercial storefront in town.
“We can’t grow like we want to in this space we are in right now,” Wall said. “We’ll stay here until we can find the right spot and get enough money to keep the business going.”
Their long-term goal is to stay in that right spot long enough to make everything work and pay everything off.
Find Red Bird Kitchen on Facebook, Instagram and redbirdkitchen.net.