Baked Alaska Restaurant & Lounge, a pillar of fine dining in Astoria for the past 20 years, is closing as owners Chris and Jennifer Holen plot their next move.
The restaurant has been closed since March because of government restrictions on seated dining meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The Holens started notifying their employees and landlord Tuesday they would not be reopening after the pandemic.
“We started with the math on what the potential of our existing space is,” Chris Holen said. “We’ve done 20 different scenarios on paper, mathematically. We’ve analyzed historical information from our business over the years to determine how much a person might spend, and how many people we would need to seat.
“And then we start to ask ourselves, ‘Will we actually have that number of people that are going to sit in here?’ It drove us to this conclusion of, ‘What will make us happy?’ That’s the gist of it.”
The coronavirus has definitely made them think about things differently, Jennifer Holen said. The couple said they were encouraged by the support of their staff, some of whom already received other job offers. They encouraged people to use these uncertain times to explore what might make them happy.
The Holens plan to stay in Astoria and explore a new business venture. They are keeping the Nekst Event dining space across 14th Street from the main restaurant. Chris Holen plans to continue Chef Outta Water, his cooking video series in partnership with other chefs from around the world. Jennifer Holen will continue as executive director of the United Way of Clatsop County.
There have been “so many people affected by the current pandemic,” she said. “Actually, over the past six weeks, we have raised and distributed over $50,000 back into the community through our nonprofit. So that’s been really great to have that to be working on during this time.”
The couple started Baked Alaska 20 years ago out of a Volkswagen van selling food at music festivals. On the way to Alaska, they stopped in Astoria, where they quickly ended up buying a cafe at what is now Albatross on 14th Street. In 2001, they opened Baked Alaska on Pier 12. They also helped open The Schooner, a restaurant across from the Hotel Elliott on 12th Street that later became T. Paul’s Supper Club.
Although sad about closing up shop, the Holens counted themselves lucky for their experiences as restaurateurs in Astoria, catering on movie sets, at countless weddings and for civic functions like the reopening of the Liberty Theatre.
Chris Holen has been involved in local schools, coaching Seaside High School’s culinary team and organizing benefit lunches staffed by Tongue Point Job Corps Center students. In 2014, the couple received the Lady Liberty Award for their support of the arts.
“We’re very, very fortunate people to have been here over the last 20 years and watch it all happen,” Chris Holen said. “Astoria’s really become an awesome place — not that it wasn’t previously, but it’s really defined itself over the last 20 years.”
Chris Holen had partnered with local apartment owner Sean Fitzpatrick on the Astoria Oregon Marketplace, a taproom and indoor eatery at the former J.C. Penney Co. that has made little progress since being announced in 2018. That project is on hold indefinitely, Chris Holen said, but he has some other ideas on the back burner.
“We’re going to do something cool,” Chris Holen. “I’m just not ready to share yet.”