Holy bulgogi! Gram’s food truck is closing. But don’t panic: the owners are just moving the beloved Kotzebue eatery to a sit-down restaurant.
Anyone who has flown into or out of Kotzebue in the last year knows Gram’s Food Truck, which has been parked at the airport since last July. For one, because it’s the only place to eat at the airport. But, more important, because it’s awesome.
Owned by married couple Chris and Ashley Madison, Gram’s is famous for adapting Korean food into creative – and delicious – new dishes. Chris is half-Korean on his dad’s side and uses recipes he learned from his family, such as the marinade for bulgogi, which is thinly sliced beef.
“People love the bulgogi tacos,” says Chris. “And we have kalbi ribs, kimchi fried rice and a bulgogi bap, which is fried rice, bulgogi and a fried egg in a bowl.”
But in the morning, it’s the breakfast items that are a real hit, Chris says. Travelers line up for the breakfast burritos and bowls, breakfast sandwiches and French toast sticks.
Part of the reason Gram’s food is so good is that Chris and Ashley make many of their meals with Arctic Greens produce grown and purchased right here in Kotzebue. Having locally grown produce is not only convenient for a business owner, but it’s great for customers because there simply is no way to get fresher ingredients.
Chris and Ashley, both KIC Descendants born and raised in Kotzebue, created their food truck by modifying an old box truck Chris’ father, a former general contractor, owned but no longer used. His dad is also named Chris Madison, mom is Bonnie Viveiros. Ashley’s parents are Andy and Tammy Baker.
The food truck is very much a family operation, with Chris manning the grill and Ashley serving customers and handling bookkeeping. It’s a good team chemistry and, in fact, the food truck has been so popular the couple was able to save up enough money to move into the old Pizza House location across from Maniilaq.
Although the building was largely ready for immediate use, Chris and Ashley still had to put in a lot of work to get it cleaned, permitted, stocked and ready to open.
The family chemistry will stay the same at the new restaurant, which they hope to open this July. The name will still also stay the same: Gram’s.
“This whole food-truck adventure was in honor of my wife’s grandmother, who we called ‘Gram,’” Chris says. “The idea behind it was to make Gram’s a place you could go and have a meal and feel at home, similar to what you felt when you went to Gram’s house. That’s what we want our customers to feel when they come to our business.”
Ashley’s grandmother, Marjorie (Rotman) Baker, passed away in 2011. Chris says, “She had a knack for whipping up amazing meals out of simple ingredients. So we thought our cooking would be inspired by what she did in her kitchen.”
Though Chris and Ashley think of Marjorie simply as “Gram,” she was a legendary figure in Alaska. Her husband, Bob, was the pilot who discovered the reddish creek that would become Red Dog Mine. When he passed away in 1968, Marjorie took over the couple’s business, Baker Aviation. She was not only the first woman to own and operate an airline company in Alaska, she also served as the Kotzebue station manager for Alaska Airlines and served on the NANA Board of Directors – all while raising the couple’s seven children on her own.
So go to Gram’s to enjoy the bulgogi tacos and wonderful, friendly service of owners Chris and Ashley Madison. But keep in mind that it is more than just a great restaurant – it’s also a tribute to a great Alaskan, a woman who raised a great family.
Congratulations to Chris and Ashley on your success! We love to see entrepreneurial shareholders and descendants become business owners – especially when that business is right here in Kotzebue.