For pandemic Thanksgiving, a growing group of Anchorage restaurants are cooking

The bake-at-home Thanksgiving dinner from Peppercini’s Deli and Catering feeds 10-12 people (Photo Courtesy Nic Bianco, 23 & Frosty)

As Alaskans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many are breaking from tradition and ordering meals from local restaurants instead of cooking at home.

Amid months of uncertainty and pandemic disruptions, Anchorage restaurant owners say demand for Thanksgiving dinner to-go has been an unexpected boost for business.

Every year, Patrice Watson cooks a big Thanksgiving meal for her family.

“My mom and I, we always cook. We always cook,” said Watson.

But this year is different. Her husband is in quarantine in their bedroom after testing positive for COVID-19. So far, Watson, her four children and her mom aren’t sick. But she says she wants to be able to serve Thanksgiving dinner no matter what. And this year, that means getting it prepared for her. So she ordered dinner from Davon’s Place House of Soul.

“We just need a 12-14 lb turkey. We want the greens, we want the macaroni and cheese, potato salad, all of that,” said Watson. “And we ordered catfish, so that’s something different than what we were going to do, you know, than what we normally do.”

Davon’s Place is owned by Khanesia Allen. Traditionally, she cooks a big Thanksgiving meal for her family. She and her husband have six kids and 17 grandchildren. But this year, she decided to cook for other families.

“I honestly, truly love to cook,” said Allen. “And my food is, like, really good. So I’m like, why can’t I do it if everybody else is doing it? And the outcome? Oh my god, I have three people to call back today. And if they do want dinner it’s going to put it to like, 20.”

Dozens of Anchorage restaurants are offering Thanksgiving dinner, or elements of it, to go. From pies and rolls to turkey and stuffing to barbeque. And for many businesses, it’s a first.

At Davon’s place, meals are made-to-order, so the cost depends on what customers want and how many people they need to feed. And there are a lot of options.

“Turkey, dressing, ham, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, potato salad,” said Allen, listing the items on her Thanksgiving menu. “You have green beans, mashed potatoes, cornbread and rolls. And then I have the cakes, the pies, the cranberry sauce, the tomatoes and onions for the sides. Of course gravy.”

As for her own family, Allen won’t be doing the cooking this year. But she says it’s in good hands.

“My sons, my daughter, they all cook just like me. So I’m very proud, I don’t have to worry about, oh is it going to be good, or anything like that,” said Allen.

And there’s one dish Allen says she’ll always make time for, even if she’s in the middle of cooking 20 Thanksgiving dinners.

“But I do do my ham. I don’t care what, I do my ham,” said Allen.

At Peppercini’s Deli and Catering, Jason Kimmel is getting ready to distribute around 75 take-and-bake Thanksgiving meals. He says the business has never cooked Thanksgiving for the public before, but they started selling bake-at-home meals at various times during the pandemic, and that gave customers an idea.

“People started asking about Thanksgiving,” said Kimmel. “Actually one of our customers sent us a Facebook message asking us if we were going to do it, and that’s what kind of got the ball rolling.”

Once they started advertising on social media, Kimmel says it took less than a week to sell out of orders. Each meal costs $225, and Kimmel says, but it’s a lot of food. Most customers he’s talked to say they’re just feeding their immediate family.

“So we’re gonna have way too much food,” said Kimmel. “When we cooked everything a few weeks ago, we figured it would be enough for ten to twelve people. So we’re sending these really nice fancy logo Tupperware for lack of a better term. And then everyone will have leftovers to pack up and eat it all weekend.”

Kimmel says the idea was hatched this year, but he expects it to become a tradition for post-pandemic Thanksgivings.

Lex Treinen contributed reporting to this story.