Collaboration is common in Alaska's food network with a hands-across-the-state mentality that makes the system work.
A new partnership between the 49th State Brewing Company and Bambino's Baby Food may seem a little odd on the surface, but owners of both businesses say it couldn't have been a better fit.
"We love what they do," Zoi Maroudas, creator of Bambino's Baby Food, said. "Supporting local and supporting family. What a beautiful way to showcase more of Alaska with our customers."
David McCarthy, co-owner of 49th State, said he has always seen his businesses as a place for families to gather.
"To me, it's a community center," McCarthy said about his restaurants that double as event spaces.
Starting Saturday, customers will be able to order Bambino's Baby Food from the 49th State's menu.
McCarthy said in his view of hospitality, every guest matters, and to him that means every person in the community — including the smallest ones. That's why he said he pushed to add an item he'd never personally seen on a restaurant menu anywhere else in the country.
The pairing began when Maroudas met McCarthy and Jason Motyka, the other co-founder of 49th State, in China as part of former Gov. Walker's trade delegation in 2018. When the Alaska food entrepreneurs met, it was kismet. Both Maroudas and McCarthy separately said they recognized the other had the same passion and mission to promote local ingredients, evidenced in the 49th State's yak burgers among other local fare and Bambino's years-long use of Alaska-grown produce.
Both businesses had big years in 2018: 49th State announced plans to open a production facility in Ship Creek and Bambino's began distributing six of their products in Anchorage Carrs Safeway stores.
McCarthy is an avid supporter of entrepreneurs, he said, and knows the obstacles that small startups in Alaska face. The decision to put baby food on the menu was not only a benefit to 49th State's customers, but also to support another local business.
"Now, Bambino's has a bigger voice today than it did yesterday," he said.
During the trade mission, Maroudas met with online retail giant Alibaba. It wasn't long after she was back stateside that she said Amazon reached out her. The connection resulted in a trip to Washington, D.C. where she presented her product and shortly after began selling her baby food through their platform.
Before its steep upward trajectory, the baby food business had a humble origin. Maroudas began making the food in the middle of the night in her parents' restaurant, Pizza Olympia. It rose to local fame after its Hali Halibut flavor won the grand prize and two people’s choice awards in the 2016 Alaska Symphony of Seafood.
With direct sales, online orders and now the partnership with 49th State, manufacturing has ramped up, but Maroudas said she will to continue to create her products using Alaska-grown ingredients.
"We're doing this together with our farmers," she said, adding that she maps out three-year supply and demand predictions to help her growers can prepare the land. "As we continue to grow, we will grow together with our farmers."
The company produces a range of teething cookies and biscuits, but what will be on the menu at 49th State will be Bambino's signature baby food in sockeye salmon bisque, veggies with chicken, and vegetable stew with filet mignon. Each option can be served in two ways: in frozen star shapes or heated as a pureed soup.
According to Bambino's website, each option is approved by nutritionists and allergists. Maroudas said the food is appropriate for infants and toddlers ages 5 months to 3 years old.
Branded 49th State infant onesies, which are sold in small shops at restaurant locations in Anchorage and Healy, will now come with a coupon for the baby food.
McCarthy said it's not about how well the baby food sells. Instead, it's about living up to his values and how it fits into his business philosophy of promoting local Alaska food.
"When I see the chef in the back open the package and give one to his kid before it's on the menu," he said, "I just have to laugh and say, 'See? It does work!'"
Maybe they'll just be the catalyst for more restaurants carrying options for toddlers, he said, and that would be a win for Alaska in his view.
Maroudas is excited for more people have a chance to sample her baby food and she's humbled and grateful for the partnership.
"This has been a dream outside of the family," Maroudas said. "Now [with] 49th State, we're doing this together as a bigger family."
Published on KTVA.com on January 5, 2019.
Read all of Jessica's writing on Muck Rack