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Need a big Mac out on the Tundra? There’s an app (and a plane) for that

Robert Golike mentioned he feels just like the world’s most costly food-delivery driver — however that’s most likely as a result of he makes use of a Cessna.

On a current morning, Golike, a pilot for Alaska Air Transit, was on the tarmac of Merrill Field, loading up a nine-seater airplane with mail, produce and diapers, amongst different freight. He was set to fly these necessities to the Upper Kuskokwim area, greater than 200 miles away.

But additionally on board was maybe essentially the most eagerly anticipated cargo: two DoorDash orders. One was steak tacos and churros from Pedro’s Mexican Grill in Anchorage, and the opposite an array of Chinese takeout classics from Famous Wok, together with lo mein, beef broccoli and General Tso’s hen.

Awaiting the supply on the opposite finish had been Natalia Navarro and her household, who look ahead to their “city food” fixes with relish.

“You can order anything you want,” Navarro mentioned. “And once you get it, you really, really savor it.”

But earlier than they might dig in, the pilot needed to ferry the order on the lengthy air journey over the silty waters of Cook Inlet, the craggy snow-covered peaks of the Alaska Range and the lake-pocked terrain close to the airstrip in Nikolai the place he would land.

There, the field of meals (solely barely crushed) was handed on to Navarro, 29, who works as a well being aide on the village’s clinic. There are not any grocery shops or eating places in that neighborhood of fewer than 100 individuals, so a couple of times a month her household orders from DoorDash to interrupt the monotony of chicken- and moose-based soups and stews.

DoorDash meals orders, that are boxed and refrigerated earlier than supply, at Alaska Air Transit in Anchorage, April 20, 2022. With the assistance of bush pilots, residents of distant Alaskan villages can fulfill their cravings for metropolis fare. (Ash Adams/The New York Times)

After microwaving their order, which had been delivered to the Anchorage airport the earlier afternoon, Navarro and her household dug in.

It wasn’t fairly the identical as consuming metropolis meals in a metropolis, she mentioned, “but it’s kind of nice to have the option to have something like that sent out. It’s not hot. It’s not fresh. But at the same time, it has the flavor you’re wanting.”

To fulfill such cravings, an intricate provide chain of supply drivers, airline workplace workers and pilots helps take a style of town to bush and tundra. Alaska Air Transit is one among dozens of small regional airways flying individuals and cargo to a whole bunch of distant communities throughout Alaska — on a regular basis necessities like Netflix DVDs, outside gear and groceries, but in addition pizzas, Big Macs and tightly wrapped containers of pho.

Supanika Ordonez mentioned that 5 years in the past, when she lived in Fort Yukon — a village simply north of the Arctic Circle, alongside the Yukon River — it was a thrill to get pizza from Fairbanks, 140 miles away. There was nowhere to exit to eat in Fort Yukon, and just one small village retailer. A number of instances she added an airport supply from Pizza Hut (whose meals saved finest on the airplane journey) to her month-to-month order of groceries.

At the time, she mentioned the one supply choices to the airport had been pizza and Chinese meals.

“I craved other stuff, but they didn’t have DoorDash back then,” Ordonez, 35, mentioned.

Today, with the ubiquity of food-delivery companies, individuals dwelling in locations with no eating places or grocery shops have entry to all of the cuisines the closest metropolis has to supply.

When Golike, 38, travels to places in Prince William Sound, delivery-food orders are on practically each flight.

“KFC is the biggest one I see,” he mentioned.

Midnight Air, an Anchorage air-taxi service, carries DoorDash and Uber Eats orders on its flights about thrice every week, mentioned its proprietor, Robert May. Lake & Peninsula Airlines, a regional provider serving the Lake Clark and Kuskokwim areas of southwest Alaska, delivers Instacart orders day by day, and DoorDash orders “probably every other day,” mentioned Katie Burrows, 29, an workplace assistant for the airline.

As an proprietor of Alaska Air Transit, Josie Owen has seen how supply apps have made metropolis meals extra obtainable to these with no entry to the state’s fundamental street system. To cope with the inflow of orders coming to its workplace, the corporate arrange a big tent within the car parking zone the place drivers can label the order with the individual’s identify and village earlier than leaving it with the employees.

Owen mentioned that though individuals in rural Alaska generally order groceries from the closest metropolis, many apply a subsistence life-style and harvest their very own meals from the land.

“A lot of the food deliveries here are just treats,” she mentioned.

Most of the airways will cease in a distant neighborhood provided that a passenger is coming or going. When that occurs, individuals within the village know they need to prepared orders with DoorDash, Grub Hub, Uber Eats or a neighborhood expediter — somebody who runs odd jobs for individuals. From there, the food-delivery driver will choose up the order and take it on to the airline. Depending on the vacation spot, the load of the meals and the area obtainable on the flight, rural Alaskans can count on to pay $10 to $30 simply to get their meals to the airplane.

Still, as Burrows identified, many individuals discover the expense worthwhile.

“There’s literally no roads to connect these people to McDonald’s or to KFC or whatever. Paying an expediter or DoorDashing something to our office and paying $20 is really not that expensive compared to going into town.”

The variety of meals deliveries can rely on the climate, since an surprising storm can cancel flights, leaving planes parked on the tarmac. When that occurs, meals orders must go in chilly storage or be eaten.

“You have all this DoorDash sitting there, and so oftentimes to help compensate, our Anchorage staff will actually just eat the DoorDash and then reorder it and pay for it, and try to ship it out the next day,” Burrows mentioned.

Expediters play a key function for a lot of rural residents. Caiti O’Connor, 22, and her twin sister, Shari, who’re from Dillingham however reside in Anchorage throughout the college 12 months, began an expediting enterprise within the fall of 2020.

The sisters assist rural Alaskans with numerous chores, like selecting up pets on the airport for veterinarian appointments on the town, storing autos or dropping off $300 value of Panda Express meals on the airport for an worker appreciation celebration on St. Paul Island.

“We like to think of ourselves as the cousins in Anchorage,” O’Connor mentioned.

The takeout-by-plane enterprise is so brisk that in June 2020, Kristen Taylor, 40, purchased an Anchorage franchise of the chain restaurant Papa Murphy’s and shortly arrange a second enterprise, Alaska Sky Pie, which arranges the transport of frozen pizzas, muffins and celebration decorations throughout Alaska.

Through contracts with a number of airways in Anchorage, she mentioned she will ship pizzas to “pretty much any village” for lower than $5 a 16-inch pie. With 10 pizzas, transport is free.

In the summer time, when many Alaskans are busy fishing, looking and foraging meals for winter, she sends out 25 to 50 pizzas every week. Business picks up in fall and winter, to a number of hundred pizzas a day. Taylor estimates that she sends 7,500 pizzas a 12 months to distant elements of Alaska, for events such birthdays, graduations, funerals, weddings and proms.

“I have a strong respect for the struggles that the bush has,” she mentioned.

She has been particularly touched by the notes she will get from households who order her pizzas, together with one she mentioned she obtained from a lady in Arctic Village.

“I’ve seen a pizza on TV, but I’ve never had one before.”

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