ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Robert Golike says he feels like the most expensive food delivery driver in the world — but that’s probably because he uses a Cessna.
One recent morning, Mr. Golike, a pilot for Alaska Air Transit, was on the tarmac at Merrill Field, loading a nine-seater plane with mail, produce and diapers, among other cargo. He was about to transport these essentials to the Upper Kuskokwim area, over 200 miles away.
But also on board was perhaps the most anticipated cargo: two DoorDash controls. One was steak tacos and churros from Pedro’s Mexican Grill in Anchorage, and the other an array of take-out Chinese classics from Famous Wok, including lo mein, beef broccoli and General Tso’s chicken.
Natalia Navarro and her family were waiting for delivery at the other end, eagerly awaiting their “city food” fixes.
“You can order whatever you want,” Ms. Navarro said. “And once you get it, you really, really savor it.”
But before he could dig in, the pilot first had to carry order on the long aerial journey over the silty waters of Cook Inlet, the rugged snow-capped peaks of the Alaska Range and the laced terrain near the airstrip. Nikolai’s landing pad where he would land.
There, the box of food (only lightly crushed) was handed over to Ms Navarro, 29, who works as a nurse’s aide at the village clinic. There are no grocery stores or restaurants in this community of less than 100 people, so once or twice a month her family orders from DoorDash to break the monotony of chicken and vegetable soups and stews. moose.
After microwaveing their order, which had been delivered to the Anchorage airport the previous afternoon, Ms. Navarro and her family dug in.
It wasn’t quite the same as eating urban food in a city, she says, “but it’s kind of nice to have the ability to have something like that sent over.” It’s not hot. It’s not fresh. But at the same time, it has the flavor you are looking for.
To satisfy those cravings, a complex supply chain of delivery drivers, airline office workers, and pilots helps bring a taste of the city to the bush and tundra. Alaska Air Transit is one of dozens of small, regional airlines flying people and cargo to hundreds of remote Alaskan communities – necessities like Netflix DVDs, outdoor gear, and grocery products. groceries, but also well-wrapped pizzas, Big Macs and tubs of pho.
Supanika Ordonez says that five years ago, when she lived in Fort Yukon – a village just north of the Arctic Circle, along the Yukon River – it was a pleasure to get pizza from Fairbanks, at 140 miles away. There was nowhere to go out to eat in Fort Yukon, and only a small village store. On a few occasions, she added airport delivery from Pizza Hut (whose food kept better during air travel) to her monthly grocery order.
At the time, she said the only delivery options at the airport were pizza and Chinese food. “I wanted other things, but they didn’t have DoorDash at the time,” said Ms Ordonez, 35.
Today, with the ubiquity of food delivery services, people living in places without restaurants or grocery stores have access to all the cuisines the nearest town has to offer.
When Mr Golike, 38, travels to places in Prince William Sound, food delivery orders are on nearly every flight. “KFC is the biggest I see,” he said.
Midnight Air, an Anchorage air taxi service, carries DoorDash and Uber Eats orders on its flights about three times a week, owner Robert May said. Lake & Peninsula Airlines, a regional carrier serving the Lake Clark and Kuskokwim areas of southwest Alaska, delivers Instacart orders every day, and DoorDash orders “probably every other day,” Katie said. Burrows, 29, office assistant for the airline.
As owner of Alaska Air Transit, Josie Owen has seen how delivery apps have made the city’s food more accessible to those without access to the state’s main highway system. To cope with the influx of orders arriving at its office, the company has set up a large tent in the parking lot where drivers can tag the order with the person’s name and village before leaving it for staff.
Ms. Owen said that while people in rural Alaska sometimes order groceries from the nearest town, many practice a subsistence lifestyle and harvest their own food from the land. “A lot of the food deliveries here are just treats,” she said.
Most airlines will only stop in a remote community if a passenger is arriving or departing. When that happens, villagers know they need to fulfill orders with DoorDash, Grub Hub, Uber Eats, or a local shipper — someone who does odd jobs for people. From there, the delivery driver will collect the order and bring it directly to the airline. Depending on the destination, the weight of the food, and the space available on the flight, rural Alaskans can expect to pay between $10 and $30 just to get their food to the plane. .
Yet, as Ms. Burrows pointed out, many people find the expense worth it. “There’s literally no road to connect these people to McDonald’s or KFC or whatever. Paying a shipper or DoorDashing something to our office and paying $20 really isn’t that expensive than going to town.
The number of food deliveries may depend on the weather, as an unexpected storm can cancel flights, leaving planes parked on the tarmac. When this happens, food orders must be stored in cold storage or eaten.
“You have this whole DoorDash sitting there, and so often to help compensate, our Anchorage staff will just eat the DoorDash, then reorder it and pay for it, and try to ship it the next day,” Ms. burrows.
Shippers play a key role for many rural residents. Caiti O’Connor, 22, and her twin sister, Shari, who are originally from Dillingham but live in Anchorage during the school year, started a shipping business in the fall of 2020.
The sisters help rural Alaskans with a variety of tasks, from picking up pets from the airport for vet appointments in town, storing vehicles, or dropping off $300 worth of Panda Express food at the airport for an employee appreciation party on St. Paul’s Island.
“We like to think of ourselves as Anchorage’s cousins,” Ms. O’Connor said.
The fly-in take-out business is so booming that in June 2020, 40-year-old Kristen Taylor bought an Anchorage franchise from restaurant chain Papa Murphy’s and quickly set up a second company, Alaska Sky Pie, which hosts the shipping frozen pizzas, cakes and party decorations throughout Alaska.
Through contracts with multiple airlines in Anchorage, she said she can ship pizza to “almost any town” for less than $5 a 16-inch pie. With 10 pizzas, delivery is free.
In the summer, when many Alaskans are busy fishing, hunting, and finding food for the winter, she sends out 25 to 50 pizzas a week. Business picks up in the fall and winter, at several hundred pizzas a day. Ms. Taylor estimates that she sends 7,500 pizzas a year to remote areas of Alaska, for occasions such as birthdays, graduations, funerals, weddings and proms.
“I have great respect for the struggles that the bush is waging,” she said.
She was particularly touched by the notes she receives from families ordering pizza from her, including one she says she received from a girl in Arctic Village:
“I saw pizza on TV, but I’ve never eaten it before.”