• Chad

Interview with Nina Bonito Romine of The Kobuk

Our next interview is with Nina of The Kobuk. The Kobuk is an awesome downtown cafe and gift shop! I got to try a tasty apple cider donut while I was here, and I'm looking forward to going back to try out their mint brownies. On to the interview!

Start us off by introducing yourself.

Nina (left) with her sister Deborah in front of The Kobuk

NINA BONITO ROMINE: My name is Nina Bonito Romine. My sister, Deborah, and I are co-owners of The Kobuk. Previously, my brother, Mike, was also an owner, but he retired after 40 years of donut-making. *laughs* I think he had enough.

Got you. It sounded like he was the primary baker?

NINA: Right. Yeah. So, he trained our current two bakers. They're well-trained and carrying on the tradition really well.

Did they start under him?

NINA: Cydney trained under Mike and Sooz came with a firm repertoire.

Okay, cool. Do they have their own recipes? Are coming up with a lot of new things?

NINA: Yeah. So, it's super good because Sue, she loves to bake. She's really good. She's an excellent innovator. Our case is full of new and fresh things. She does a million variations on the brownie. We've got mint brownies, caramel brownies, salted caramel brownies. All kinds of stuff.

I love mint brownies. Might have to check that one out!

NINA: Oh, yeah, it's awesome. And then, she's got some cheesecake, coffee cakes, and just a whole lot of different things and always fresh, which is super good.

Very cool.

NINA: Yeah.

And this is an apple cider donut?

NINA: Apple cider donut, and I'm having the pumpkin donut. So, those are seasonal.

I have great timing, apparently. I like anything with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar. It hits the spot.

NINA: *laughs* Yeah, that's my favorite too.

I was reading on the website. So, your family purchased this building. It's got a lot of history behind it. And then, you purchased the building in 2002, the way I understand it. And then, the actual business, the Kobuk, in 1993.

NINA: It was 1993, right.

Yeah. How did that whole decision come about? How did that start? Was it just a discussion between you and the siblings or how did it go?

NINA: Yeah My sister is quite the entrepreneur. She started out selling frozen salmon fillets on a cart down on Fourth Avenue. And the opportunity came up to bid on a shop in the airport. So, when she bid on that and got that shop, she wanted to carry the Samovar tea because she and I, when we were in high school, we had a little routine. We'd come downtown. We'd go window shopping. We'd have lunch at the downtown deli. It was the same every weekend. *laughs* We'd have lunch at the downtown deli. It was a cream cheese bagel with strawberry jam and Constant Comment tea. And then, we'd come over to the Kobuk for a quarter pound of gummy bears. In those days, the ladies had coffee or Samovar tea sampled. So, when she had her shop in the airport, she came by, and she asked one of the gals who was working here. She said, "I'm really interested in carrying the Samovar tea." And so, she started carrying the tea at the airport. She came to make a pick up one day, and she said to one of the gals, Dorothy was her name, at the time, she said, "If you guys are ever interested in selling, I'm interested in buying the business.” It looked a little bit abandoned at that point. What had happened was Patsy James, who owned the business, she had passed away. Her son was paying the rent on her part of the building and paying the employees, but he was a doctor who had a full-time practice. And he was just carrying it on.

Keeping the flow essentially.

NINA: Yeah. And so, when they sold something, they'd buy something. So, it looked a little bit like it needed a little infusion of enthusiasm. So, they actually called us back. And then, my brother, and sister, and I sat down with my mom and dad, and had a little family conference, and decided, "Yeah, we're going to buy it." My brother ran the shop for a long, long time. It was tiny. You would think that it's 800 square feet, 400 square feet. I mean, we could fit three people in there. Literally, people would open the door and if there were three shoppers, they'd walk out because they couldn't fit in there. So, my brother ran the shop, until one day, he said, "If one more old lady asks me about an English bone china teacup," he said, "I think I'm going to lose it." *laughs* We had to do something. We bought the building from Mrs. Andresen whom we rented from. So we bought it in '93. And then, in 2002, unfortunately, she passed away from the flu. She was sharp as a tack, but she got the flu, and she was quite elderly. And so we purchased the building from her son. And then expanded it to what it is today. So we brought the ceiling back to its original height, opened up the second half where she had still been operating her fabric store. Rural Alaskans came in for fabric, and trim, and sewing notions. She was doing that till she passed away. So we opened up both sides of the shop. And then, this back area where we're sitting now, this was her formal living room with the fireplace. And then the other seating area back there was a bedroom, her bedroom, and then her kitchen and bathroom. We converted this whole area to our cafe and commercial kitchen. And then, my brother could get out of the china and into the kitchen where he was very happy. *laughs*

The ultimate goal!

NINA: Yeah. His whole career was in cooking. In fact, ironically, in the '80s, he was a cook at one of Patsy James' gold mine up in Northwest Alaska.


NINA: Yeah, Kobuk River. He came full circle. So, he became owner, and cook, and baker here for us. And then, in 2015 I think it was, Huffington Post came, tested our donut, and declared it the nation's best old-fashioned donut. So, we've been riding that wave for quite a while.

Yeah. So, how did they hear about it?

NINA: You know, I don't know. They were doing visitations throughout the state. And they came up here. And, I guess, word of mouth that we had great donuts, which is also funny because my brother said, "We need to do donuts." I'm like, "Mike, donuts. People can get donuts anywhere. You go to Carrs, you buy donuts." He said, "Not like my donuts." And, lo and behold, he was right. And then Pow Wow came up next year. Again, we got the best old-fashioned donut.

Very cool. That's awesome.

NINA: And so, we've expanded the baked goods, and we do soup and salad. Sandwiches are available seven days and soup is during the week. Just good old-fashioned home cooking, nothing fancy.

That's very cool. So you said Deborah, entrepreneur. Mike's the baker. You were a teacher.

NINA: I was a teacher, yeah.

Was it difficult making the transition from that to this?

NINA: Well, my sister was the financial genius. She's a businesswoman. I was a full-time teacher. So, I got to do the fun stuff. I would go help with shopping. Go do the shopping. Mike hated doing the shopping. So, he never did any of the trade show trips for the store, but that was my forte. Although it was different because Deborah, she was running operations. Mike was doing the daily management of the store. And I was just doing the occasional purchasing and didn't really have to learn the ins and outs of that, like quantities, and timing, and payments till I retired when Deborah moved to DC for the six years that Mark served in the Senate. I retired from teaching after a 28-year career. My youngest son graduated, and I retired that same year. And I came here full time, and it was a pretty steep learning curve from just helping out now and then and working on holidays to being full-time in the shop and managing. So, I learned a lot. I learned a lot from my sister, and I feel really confident now. But, at first, it was really funny because I'm sure sales reps were pulling their hair out because I'm like, "Well, I'll take eight of those, and maybe 12 of those." It was really tentative. *laughs* And they were so kind. No one ever laughed at me. And, now, I'm like, "Yeah, I need to spend X dollars. You pick them out. Give me your bestsellers," or "I need two dozen of everything you have." I'm more confident with that.

Well, it's like a lot of things, I'm sure. You just needed to cut your teeth and all that.

NINA: Teaching is people-oriented and so is running a retail gift shop. People from all over the world come in and come to the shop. It's really fun.

Yeah. I'm sure the tourist season is busy.

NINA: Yeah, it's everybody. All over the United States and international visitors too. And then, for Fur Rondy and Iditarod, a lot of people from the lower 48 are up here. And at Christmas, which is our busiest season, it's all Alaskans. That carries us. That makes our year. The whole store at that point is holiday-oriented.

Just now walking in, there was a lot of really unique gift options so that makes a lot of sense.

NINA: We have a fun time. And my mom is German. So we're heavily loaded on the German candies and crafts. I think we, probably, are the biggest Nutcracker collection retail in the state. And lots of German pyramids, a lot of British people enjoy shopping here too. Also, you see a lot of bone china, a lot of candy from England. Candies from around the world and gifts. And it's fun. It's a lot of fun. We like to try and pick out things that you won't find everywhere. So, it's a bit unique.

Yeah, for sure. It gives you a certain kind of vibe when you walk in. It's cool.

NINA: Yeah, the old hometown general store.

Yeah, I like it a lot. So you were talking earlier about you were going to The Kobuk when you're younger. You expanded it a lot with more items and different things. What was it like back then?

NINA: So, you walked in the door, and there was one whole wall on the right. It was full of bone china and picture frames. I remember, there were always picture frames, but a lot of bone china, beautiful patterns,from all kinds of different companies. And then, the other side was all old-fashioned candy. Patsy was the first person in the state to carry gourmet coffee and tea as well. She had an array of full whole bean coffees before it was popular. She was really forward-thinking. The shelf was lined with big jars. Those are the original jars that she used for tea. They're recycled mayo jars and other food items, but they've been here forever. And so, it was mostly coffee, tea, candy, and bone china. It had an old-fashioned Victorian tea vibe to it. But Alaskan too, as all along the walls, she had artifacts from her gold mine and from the area up there. Really cool native crafts and big pieces of baleen and just some really neat things. It had that old-time Alaskan feel, but also with that Victorian flair. It was a little bit weird. *laughs*

Yeah, interesting mashup.

NINA: Yeah. And it continues to be a mashup today. My husband rolls his eyes every time he walks in. He's like, "Oh man, you guys need to have a theme." I'm like, "This IS our theme."

The mashup!

NINA: A little bit of disarray, eclectic. It's a lot of fun. We go shopping, and if we see stuff, and we like it, we buy it.

Yeah. I was actually just going to ask you about that. How do you come up with new items to feature?

NINA: We usually go to, at least, two gift shows. The Alaska Wholesale Show is really great. So, manufacturers and vendors come. They set up a booth, and they show all the things that they have to sell. And so, we go, and we look, and we pick things out. And the lovely thing now is that more and more are handmade. It was funny. A customer was shopping in here the other day, and I heard her say, "You have more stuff made in the USA than we do in our store, and we're in the USA." And I was thinking, "Does she not know that we're in the USA." *laughs* I think it was really cute.

It's interesting how often that seems to happen.

NINA: We also like to support Alaskan artists, so we have lots of Alaskan-made items too, which is super fun. So we go to those shows and we put in orders for different times of the year. And we constantly try to find something new for our regulars because we have people that come in two or three times a month. They come in fairly regularly, stop, and see what's new. And so we like to have things that are new and different for them.

Surprise them.

NINA: Yeah. So that's how we do it. And then, often, people come to us. And that's, actually, how we do most of our First Fridays. We've had some really great First Fridays from folks stopping in to show their wares, or inquire if they can show here. So it's fun.

Yeah. Probably makes it a little easier too.

NINA: Oh, yeah. They come to you! *laughs*

I was also reading that you grew up in an army family and it sounds like that played a big part in being so tight-knit.

NINA: Yeah, because we moved every two or three years until we came up to Alaska. So, we would go places, and it was always so funny because, in some instances, we would not be on post for school. So we'd go to the public school in the neighborhood, and those kids, they've grown up together since kindergarten. I'm like, "Well, that's so cool. How weird?" *laughs* That just doesn't happen when you're in the military. When we moved up here, Deborah was starting middle school. I was a junior, I think, in high school. Mike was going off to college in Fairbanks. My dad then, ultimately, retired here. We've all stayed here ever since. And that was in '76. Plus, we're from an Italian/German family. My dad's Italian. My mom's German. At one point, we were in Connecticut where his family all lived. We did everything with cousins, and his sisters, and brother-in-law. So, that was also really, really fun. It's just a way of life, I think, when you're Italian and German to be extra family-oriented.

Big families.

NINA: Yeah, big families. And then, we moved up here, of course. Nobody came to visit because we were so far away. I mean, they thought we fell off the edge of the earth. "What are you doing in Alaska? We'll never see again." *laughs* So we always had each other and grew up together. That's probably typical of a lot of army brats.

It's really nice that you had that because it's got to be hard always having to make new friends.

NINA: It was. I really enjoyed moving. It was always sad to leave because you did make friends, but it was just so enriching. We saw a lot of different places, met a lot of different people. It was really a unique experience. I really enjoyed it.

Yeah. Have you reconnected with anyone from those places?

NINA: Yeah. There are a couple of really good friends. And so many just picked up from where you left off. My friend, Sue Fisher from when I was 10, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, she's coming up next year to visit. I stopped in to see her when I was down in Montana and she happened to be living in the area there. So, occasionally it happens. Of course, my best, best friends are from college, probably just like anybody, but I still have a couple from my youth.

Yeah. That's cool. Those are the best ones too when you know you can not necessarily communicate for a while but still pick up where you left off.

NINA: Yeah, it's cool. It's a neat thing.

It's awesome. Yeah. As far as the idea to invest, when you approached your parents, was it ultimately a collective approach by all of you?

NINA: Well, we were all professionals so we were already working. So the three of us put in equally. And it wasn't much. When we bought the building, we did that with a standard small business loan. It's been good for us. We have never had to worry. That said, one year when they were building E Street, the project went way over budget. It infringed a lot on the property in front, and we had to close early numerous times. I mean, it was impossible for people to get in here. That was expensive for us that year, yeah.

Was there any recourse at that point?

NINA: Well, there were a couple of things happening. We felt like we couldn't make any claim because my brother-in-law was mayor at the time. And so we had to be super careful and didn't want to have any appearance of any impropriety. Things would fall off the wall. I mean, they were jackhammering out here, and things would fly off the wall, and the contractor's like, "Well, let me pay for that. Here's my Visa." I said, "No, really, we can't. But is there any way that you can let us know when you're going to do it. We'll take things off the wall." That kind of thing. So we had a pretty bad year that year, but those things happen.

A little adversity but you clearly bounced back.

NINA: That's right.

What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of working with family?

NINA: Well, advantages are you know each other very well, everybody's all in. I mean, there are lots of good things. We find it pretty easy to work together. The challenges are when you have a different idea because you're not as kind to each other. *laughs* It's probably a different picture. "That is such a stupid idea. We're not doing that." I mean, you get emotional. You're just laying it out there. So, we've had some arguments, and you get mad for a little while, and then you come to some kind of agreement. That's been probably the biggest thing, I think, is when we don't all agree on what we should do, or what the next move should be. My brother tends to be a lot more conservative than my sister and I as far as expanding or doing different things. And then his solution to things was always very practical. He said, "We need to build a trash area. We need to do this and that." I'm like, "That's going to be so ugly. I don't want to do that." Well, of course, we did it. It was a great idea. Everything's hidden back there. So, it's like you tussle, you go back to your old brother-sister roles. I'm the middle. Deborah's younger. Mike's older. So, that's somewhat of an impediment. But, overall, it's been great. My mom and dad both have worked with us. They used to volunteer all the time. So, you spend some time together. It's been really wonderful.

You see families, sometimes, they spread more and more apart. It seems like it helps keep you all together, which is cool.

NINA: Everyone is so enthusiastic about it. You know what I mean? It's a topic of the conversation all the time. We miss Mike because he's out but the door is always open. That's the thing about a family business. So it's challenging but totally doable, especially if you love each other. We don't have issues. It's not like we're not speaking to each other ever, that kind of thing some siblings have. I feel bad for them if they don't get along with their siblings because those are your buddies for life.

The complete estrangement kind of stuff.

NINA: Yeah. That's a sad thing. So, luckily, that's never been an issue.

That's really good. Earlier, you mentioned your customer who was not 100% percent on the fact that Alaska was a state. Do you have any other interesting customer stories?

NINA: Those are the funniest ones when they think, "Oh, you use the dollar." "Well, yeah." They learn pretty quickly, yes, we're in the United States. It's just really funny. And those are Americans. Most Europeans don't. I mean, they know us as part of United States. It doesn't happen that often. We shouldn't make it sound like it's this big thing. But, occasionally, it's really funny. Customers have been super marvelous because they come in, and they are so complimentary about the store. It's like, "Oh, this is the best shop. This is so different than a lot of tourist shops." And I tell them, "We're open year round." We close for inventory in January for a couple of weeks but other than that, we're open. And Alaskans are our customers, and they have been for over a hundred years. This was THE general store in Anchorage in 1915 when Will Kimball built and served Anchorage from everything from nails, to paint, to lace. Everything was here. So that's a neat tradition.

Yeah, that's very cool. It just evolved.

NINA: Yeah. And then, it's nice when their family comes in, like the nieces or the grandkids will come and say, "I'm so glad you kept it. You've done really great with the shop." So that's cool. We had a waterline issue three years ago, and we had to rip up all of the ground outside and repair that line. And so, then, we said, "Well, we need to do something out there." So we planted a garden. We didn't actually put it in until we had volunteers, some great friends, Renae Boonstra and her family came, and put in a lot of labor, and they put in the garden. And so, now, we have a garden patio. That's another thing people really enjoy in the summer.

Gives you some outdoor seating.

NINA: And the flowers are there now. We have a wine and beer license, so if someone wants to have a beer out there, they can. When people wait for their plane, they'll come, or we had several couples that would come while they were in Anchorage. They were here three or four days. And they came, at least, three times. So it's nice. Even that little tiny relationship.

Yeah. A fun part of having a local business is that community feeling.

NINA: Yeah, you get your regulars coming in. Andy Klein, he has come into our store and said hello from the day we bought it. It's really hilarious. There was a chair next to Decema’s door, the place between her shop and our shop, and this old man would come every day. His name was Andy also, different Andy. He'd sit down. The gals, Judith and Dorothy, would give him a little bag of soft candies, like soft licorice buttons. He'd stay all day. Then, he'd get up, and he'd leave. So, when we bought the store, my sister and I, we're like, "Well, what do we do with Andy? Do we have to tell him?" So, ultimately, we didn't say anything, and he'd come here every day. He'd sit down. We'd give him his candy until one day, he didn't come anymore. He had passed away. But he just came with the shop. He was a fixture. And so, it's just that kind of thing.

It's the people too.

NINA: Yep.

That's cool.

NINA: And Dorothy and Judith stayed for a while because my sister was running her shop at the airport, I was still teaching, Mike was working. Then those gals left to do different things. And then, we started. Mike was full-time at the shop at that point. Then it went on from there.

This is a question I meant to ask earlier, and I sort of spaced it at the time, and I want to come back to it. With your teaching background, were there things that you found that you could directly apply when you were figuring out how to manage the business?

NINA: Yeah. Definitely systems for dealing with things. When my sister hears this, she's going to die laughing because my classroom, much like my office, looks extremely disorganized. Unless you're me because I know where everything is, and I know where I put it. Being able to prioritize what needs to be done first, put stuff where it is. Being able to find it and get it. And then working with people, and working with our employees. We have a lot of young employees. Our baristas, in particular, during the summer, tend to be high school kids and college students. So managing that and working with them and helping them through. My brother had very little patience for mistakes. I'm like, "Mike, they're kids. They're 17. You need to tell them again." "I've told them three times." "Well, we probably need to tell them seven times." He'd get upset with things that didn't go right the first time. I'm like, "No harm. No one means any ill will. We just need to go through the process again." So that kind of patience. In fact, one of my employees said, "You can really tell that you and Shelly are teachers because when we mess up, you don't get mad right away." That's definitely, I think, a teacher's skill. And then just knowing that you've got to get things done and use your time wisely because there's a lot to do. When you leave at night, sometimes there's still a hundred things you haven't done.

Prioritizing has got to be really important, if not the most important thing.

NINA: Right. Sit down and think, "Today, what am I going to do? There are 10 things on this list. What are the top three to start with? And then, see where we go." Because it is very demanding. I was very surprised because I thought that I would work at the shop for only two or three days each week because I had retired from teaching. That's not the way that it worked out. And in the summer, especially, it's 110%. I did decide to take three weeks off in January. I said, "I've got to go." So I delegate the inventory to others. My brother-in-law-in-law (he’s actually Deborah’s brother-in-law) is in charge of inventory when I'm gone.

You got to give yourself a break sometimes, for sure.

NINA: That's true.

It's too easy to get burned out if you're working all the time.

NINA: It's go, go, go, go. I mean, we're open until 8:00 in the summer, seven days a week, so sometimes, we're here 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. We are. The employees aren't. And then, of course, if someone is sick or out, or people need to take a vacation then it's you, it's all you.

You can't be just like, "Well, what are we going to do?"

NINA: Yeah. So that's a challenge but that's just the way it is. That's not unique. That's probably true for every small retail owner-operated business. It's a good thing it's fun. *laughs*

Yeah, makes it worth it.

NINA: Definitely.

I haven't asked you about the coffee yet so I want to get to that. You shared a couple of different varieties of coffee with us. Do you have a favorite yourself?

NINA: Well, I like the Owl B. Jammin' because I like the dark, rich coffee. I'm always astounded how different coffee is. There are some that are really mild and mellow, and some that are really sharp. They're very different. People come in and want to know what you recommend. That's always fun. And we have a lot of coffees, but we have far fewer than we used to because, now, you can get coffee everywhere. So we used to have about probably 20 flavored coffees and those are far less popular. So we honed it down just to the probably eight or so that are really, really popular and delicious and then all of our non-flavored coffees are all local roast. The Owl B. Jammin' is free trade organic so that's super nice. And then there’s Blueberry. You've got to have blueberry coffee because you're in Alaska. We serve that in the cafe during the summertime too. People like something a little different. The fun thing about those two coffees is that our labels are designed by Alaskan artists. Amanda Brannon, who has since moved, she designed the Owl B. Jammin' label for us, and Romney Dodd did the Blueberry Creme coffee label. So that's neat. We have our custom tea blends each with an Alaskan artist designed label as well.

That's awesome!

NINA: Yeah. I hate to say it, because the tea is delicious, but the label itself sells the tea because they're just so beautiful. *laughs* They really are.

Makes sense. You walk in the store sometimes and you're bombarded with a bunch of different choices. Something's got to catch your eye when you're overwhelmed.

NINA: Right, it's visual. Exactly.

Cool. So then your inspiration for the blends, is that still going out and sourcing in the same way, seeing what's available?

NINA: Yeah, what's available. And then demand because people want organic. That's driven things a little bit. The organic movement, local, the Alaskan-made, USA-made. That's been big. There were years when we were looking for those things and they weren't readily available. The movement for made in the USA, really in the last 7-10 years, has been a big push. And so, now, there are certain parts of the shows we go to that that's what those items are. They're all made in the USA, manufactured in the USA. Then there's handmade in the USA. And then, in the Alaska Show, of course, it's handmade in Alaska. So that's been really helpful because people, they travel all the way to Alaska, they don't want something made in China. They want to take home something that's from here, and they ask for that all the time. Which I don't blame them. When I travel, I want something unique from where I was visiting.

Yeah, absolutely. We were just in Ireland, and it was the same. You'd have to dig a little bit and check labels closely just to be 100% because, yeah, some of the places, you would find generic sort of stuff. It took a little more work at times to find handmade crafts.

NINA: Yeah, they're just more meaningful too. It just is. One of our biggest sellers are those Denali Dreams soaps. They're beautiful. They look great. And then, I always tell people, it's the perfect gift because they don't sit around. You use them up. They're not on a shelf collecting dust. *laughs*

Yes. I like consumable gifts.

NINA: Men, especially, that is so true. They come in, they don't want a knickknack. That's what we got, you can either eat it or use it up. We've got plenty of that.

Yeah, it's a good thing, for sure. I'm with you. Any new products on the horizon?

NINA: Well, we've got more blends. We've got a gentlemen's blend of tea coming up because that's becoming a thing with a super cute label, mustachioed moose. And we've got a Rhubarb Kiss tea blend. So we've got a couple of more teas coming up online. And we're always looking for new ideas. One of our employees makes beautiful jewelry, so she's doing a whole set for us. And if you're a dog lover, Sooz makes awesome dog biscuits. We're going to be pumping those out in a gift bag. We have a big dog section. I love dogs.

Did that come from your love of dogs then? You said, "We should have something like this."

NINA: Totally came from the love of dogs. Our products tend to mirror our life-stages. My sister and I, our boys are older now but when they were little, we had a big baby section. I have a big yellow lab at home now, so...Coincidentally. *laughs*

Have to get inspiration from somewhere!

NINA: That's right. Real life. That was good. So yeah, we have a nice pet section that's taken off. A nice men's section. It's really fun because you get to do whatever you want. It's good to be the boss.

For sure, yeah. As far as the Bear Box, when you first heard about it, what was it specifically that made you want to be a part of it?

NINA: Well, the whole idea of getting product out there for people to see and promoting small businesses. Awesome idea. And I hadn't heard of it before at all.

We're pretty new.

NINA: Yeah, it's cool. It's a great idea. So I hope it has lots of success.

It's something that we were very excited about. And everything we've heard from everyone has been really great, whether it's from the subscribers that we've talked to or from the businesses, we've heard a lot of really good things from everyone.

NINA: And then, as a business, can I have another opportunity to participate?

Yeah, absolutely. It wouldn't be for another year because we're going by location, but absolutely.

NINA: You know why I want to know? Because I've been experimenting with new tea bags. Samovar Tea, that's our signature. We're trying to find a bag that wouldn't seep because of the cinnamon oil and orange oil in there. And I think I found it. The oils in there, everything that it comes in contact with smells like Samovar, which you would not want in your box. *laughs* Can I tell you a funny story?


NINA: So we wind down around September 20th or so when the last ship docks in town. So, we expect, "Okay, we've got some breathing space." We deep clean. We're going to transition into our holidays. But then, on the 17th or 18 of September, my brother-in-law comes out. He tells me, "We have 25 mail orders online." And I said, "What?" I said, "Were they backed up or something? Was there a glitch?" He said, "No. They're all from the 17th and 18th." I was like, "Great." And I just ordered our 150 medium mailboxes from the USPS for gifts on Christmas. So the next day, he comes out. He goes, "Well, there's another 20 orders online." And it continues this way and I realize we're almost through our 150 boxes that I bought for Christmas. We couldn't figure out what was going on until, finally, a gentleman emailed me, and we had this conversation, and he said, "I went online to look for your sandbar tea, but I couldn't find it at your website." And I said, "Well, I'm sure you mean Samovar tea." He said, "No, sandbar because Steve Rinella of the MeatEater Podcast mentioned it in his podcast." Apparently he was hunting and it was a rainy day. They were waiting for some caribou. They had this delicious tea and he talked about it! so, I said, "Oh my word, no wonder!" Also, all these orders are coming from men, which is also unusual. So they did this great plug for us on their podcast and we had this flood of orders for Samovar tea. It was just amazing. So now I'm hoping that everyone likes it and they order again.

Always the hope!

NINA: Most definitely.

So, any final thoughts? Anything else you'd like to share? Any wisdom?

NINA: I really think life is a lot easier if you love what you're doing because I do know people who, they just don't enjoy it. I just think, every day, you got to find something to laugh about, not to laugh at but to laugh about. And just enjoy your people, enjoy what you're doing, and try to make it easier on yourself because, a lot of times, it's easy to be hard on yourself when things go wrong.

You're your own worst critic.

NINA: Yeah, totally. And you know what, at the end of the day, what's the worst thing? Guess what? If there's no blood and nothing is on fire, there's no big deal.

For sure. Don't sweat the small stuff.

NINA: Yeah, don't sweat the small stuff. Exactly. Which is hard to remember but definitely a good idea.

Yeah. You just have to take that to heart.

NINA: Oh, I also wanted to mention, when we got our beer and wine license for our summer patio, we decided during the off-season that we would do reservation dinners for up to 8 to 10, 8 to 12 because my sister is a gourmet cook. We thought we'd offer special occasion dinners or maybe wine and appetizers before shows at the PAC. So that's something that's in the works. We'll figure that out. We’ll have local brews. The wines aren't, of course, but beers will be and then little plates.

I love that. I'm all about the beer.

NINA: Yeah, there's some good beer out there. So that's something new and different.

Cool. That's awesome. Well, thank you so much, Nina.

NINA: Thank you.

I super appreciate you taking the time and everything.

NINA: Absolutely.

It's been great. It's been a lot of fun.

NINA: My pleasure.

Big thanks to Nina for taking the time out of her day for this interview! If you dug the coffee you received in the box and want more, or you want to try the coffee that you didn't get in your box, be sure to check out The Kobuk website or check out their Facebook.