How one Anchorage business delivers 150 pizzas a week to the Alaska bush

A Papa Murphy’s employee assembles a take-and-bake pizza in the store on Debarr Road in Anchorage. (Photo by Abbey Collins/Alaska Public Media)

Alaskans are known for being resourceful, for building homes, hunting and fishing to fill the freezer, and finding ways to get what they need — even pizza.

There’s one Anchorage business flying pizzas hundreds of miles to far corners of the state: Papa Murphy’s on Debarr Road in Anchorage.

Tyler Williams is the owner.

“All of our pizzas are made fresh in-house. We grate our cheese every day, process our veggies every day, make our dough every day. So it’s all extremely fresh product that we make, and we flash-freeze them,” Williams said.

It’s a little different than a traditional pizza shop. You can’t buy a piping hot slice of pizza or a whole cooked pie. Instead, they serve take-and-bake.

If you’re in Anchorage, it doesn’t have to be flash-frozen. Customers can take uncooked pizzas home and cook them that day. But Williams said a lot of these pizzas aren’t going to stay in the city.

“They get flown out frozen,” Williams said. “Once the customer gets them it takes two to three days, depending on weather. They defrost them — it takes just a couple hours on the counter. And the product proofs, and it’s ready to be cooked.”

Demand for the pizzas is strong. Williams said, on average, around 150 pizzas each week fly to communities across the state. He said the bush deliveries first got started because so many people were asking for it.

“We just had people calling us, asking us to bring pizzas to the airport and drop them off,” Williams said.

Jules Bourdukofsky lives on St. Paul Island — that’s way out west in the Bering Sea. Bourdukofsky said she doesn’t order from Papa Murphy’s all the time, but she has on several occasions.

“Every once in a while, like for kids’ parties or fundraisers,” Bourdukofsky said.

It’s a particularly special resource on the island, where there is no local pizza shop.

“You have to buy it frozen from the store,” Bourdukofsky said. “And it’s DiGiorno’s, and it’s way smaller for about the same price, $20.”

Williams said bush orders get shipped out frequently, and they go as far as Prudhoe Bay.

“Now we do several bush orders a week,” Williams said. “We work with several schools in Alaska and churches, stuff like that. We do big fundraisers.”

Papa Murphy’s fundraisers are popular in Alaska, especially with schools. Right now the business is holding a Super Bowl fundraiser. Residents can order pizzas for the football game, and proceeds help support local organizations.

Financially, flying to more remote parts of the state can be expensive. But Williams said they’re able to make it work. The company partners with airlines throughout the state to help minimize shipping costs.

“Our profit per pizza is a little bit less, but the fact that we’re shipping — because we’re covering the shipping cost in most cases, since we’re doing orders of 10 or more — there’s enough margin there to make it work,” Williams said.

Alaskans have gone to far lengths to get special foods delivered to remote places. When Alaska Public Media asked about that on Facebook, people shared stories of having wine and chocolate delivered to a remote field camp.

Someone had a pizza dropped off on a glacier in the Alaska Range.

Another recalled a story of trading a pilot fish for pizza on Prince William Sound.

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