By Melinda Munson
Skagway business owner Beth Smith stands behind the same dark wood counter that welcomed guests to Harriett Pullens’ gold rush Pullen House Hotel. The piece was installed in Smith’s Morning Wood Hotel, which opened in 2006. One could draw parallels between the two resourceful Skagway businesswomen. Harriett sold pies to filthy miners, Smith hawks sweatshirts that sport the bawdy name of her establishment.
Smith and her husband, Mark, own three businesses: 125-seat restaurant The Station Bar and Grill, Morning Wood Hotel and local bar, Happy Endings.
The Station, Skagway’s oldest year-round restaurant and the Smith’s first foray into hospitality, celebrated its 20th anniversary this month. The location was originally a mechanic shop with a hydraulic lift.
In 2001, Smith, who had worked in Skagway seasonally since 1999, planned to spend one last summer. Instead, she met her husband and they decided to turn the auto shop into a restaurant. When the tourist season ended and the restaurant still wasn’t ready, someone surprised the couple by announcing an opening date for The Station with an ad in the paper, and the Smiths scrambled to comply.
Smith described the restaurant’s inaugural day in September 2002 as “a Little House on the Prairie experience.”
“The O’Daniel girls were there, because we had so much sawdust, they were dusting all our fake plants and our walls,” Smith said. Jan Tronrud washed dishes for over 10 hours, and someone who Smith had never met but called himself “Whitey,” carried table and chairs into the building. Experienced cooks like Jim Sager came to offer assistance and friends volunteered to waitress. Smith and a helper finished printing menus 20 minutes before the restaurant debuted.
“When we opened, everybody swarmed in and there was not an empty seat,” Smith said.
Besides serving food, over the years the restaurant has also served as a community gathering spot. It was the site of an “epic” sleepover for some of Skagway’s kids, hosted fundraisers like the Tanner-Hanson Olympics with the ever popular staring contest and featured game show nights emceed by the current mayor. The Station currently sponsors two teams for The Klondike Road Relay.
Smith said the best part of owning a restaurant is “not having to cook dinner.” She cited juggling staff personalities, finding workers (particularly in the winter) and staying provisioned as the most challenging aspects.
The Station will be open seven days a week this winter as Skagway Brewing Company and Glacial Coffeehouse temporarily shut down, marking the first yuletide season in recent history Skagwegians will have to go without a Spruce Tip Blonde or a Sausage McMabel.
Beginning November, The Station will be open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., then 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Smith acknowledged there will be some pressure on The Station in the upcoming months as the only restaurant in town.
“I’m glad to do it. I love Skagway,” Smith said.