Whale’s Tale grand opening draws huge crowd

Chamber hosts ribbon cutting for new local business

Jacob Ranney, right, walks down to help on the floor of Wendy Ranney’s new coffee shop, The Whale’s Tale, during the grand opening in Cordova on Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

A newfound energy filled the end of Orca Road the first week of March as coffee aficionados lined up for the grand opening of Wendy Ranney’s new coffee shop, The Whale’s Tale.

It was a dream come true for Ranney this past grand opening weekend, as she served up cup after cup of coffee, tea and signature drinks to a steady flow of customers lined up at the counter.

Ranney dreamt of owning her own coffee shop since she was a teenager and in small-town style, the community rallied down to Orca Adventure Lodge to support that dream.

The Whale’s Tale is the first coffee shop in Cordova to offer a large seating area as well as a safe and designated play area for children, which also includes a small library.

Up in the loft of the new children’s play area, imaginary tea was poured into little cups, while pink and yellow plastic cupcakes were taken out of the fake oven.

The children’s play area at The Whale’s Tale seen on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Back in the ‘50s or ‘60s, during its cannery era, the coffee shop was the mechanic shop. Years later, Orca Adventure Lodge eventually began using it as a fish processing station.

Ranney, who has experience managing hotels, retail shops and restaurants, spent years making sure the furniture was right, the details were ironed out and that the history remained.

“In my mind, the perfect job was my own coffee shop,” Ranney said. Her husband, Steve Ranney, agreed to make the space work to create the coffee shop she envisioned.

The greys and reds used to paint and decorate the coffee shop echo those across the parking lot in the New England Fish Company building, once the dining hall for cannery employees, and now the dining hall, lounge and office for Points North Heli-Adventures.

“I wanted it to look like a mechanic shop,” Ranney said. “Not lose the integrity of the history of Orca.”

Along the back wall, large black and white photos help tie in the fishing history and life at Orca Adventure Lodge, a business that she and her husband own.

“She’s worked very, very, very hard,” said her son, Jacob Ranney, as he helped out during the special preview held the night before the grand opening. “She’s put endless hours into designing this and planning it and…painting it. I think that she’s really deserving of all of this.”

Angelique Waggoner, left, takes a photograph of Wendy Ranney and Cathy Renfeldt after the official ribbon cutting hosted by the Cordova Chamber of Commerce during the grand opening of The Whale’s Tale on Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Fragile teacups, inherited by Ranney, line the walls and showcases, breaking up the industrial décor at the quaint coffee shop.

March 5 was the first regular business day for Ranney after opening weekend, where she had help from Angelique Waggoner, of Alaska Restaurants Supply in Anchorage.

Waggoner trained Ranney on calibrating the espresso machine and showed her shortcuts for making drinks if, for example, she were to run out of milk, a worry of Ranney’s, especially during winter in Cordova.

“You’re my hero,” Ranney said, breaking the conversation to thank her husband, Steve Ranney, as he carried in two gallons of milk.

After a minute, Ranney wondered what was taking him so long.

“I think he’s in my cookies,” she said suspiciously, only to find Steve chowing down upon entering the kitchen. The two laughed and briefly embraced before Steve bashfully walked out, chewing the remaining bits of cookie.

“I have just a lot of admiration for what she did,” Steve said in between farewells to friends and customers over the weekend.

During the grand opening on March 2, Steve had to turn people away due to the overwhelming crowd and limited space.

Trent Perry, left, and Karen Perry walk into The Whale’s Tale during a preview for selected guests, the night before the grand opening, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

In the days that followed, heli skiers became taste testers as Ranney worked on perfecting drinks. She even named a white chocolate mocha, with ancho chili powder-dusted whipped cream, “The Heli Skier”, as a nod to the support she has received from Points North.

Other signature drinks include a London Fog and her Cranberry Blood Orange Spritzer.

Ranney carries Raven’s Brew drip coffee and Kaladi Espresso.

She holds “Mug Up” from 11 a.m. to noon every day; For fifty cents, customers can enjoy a cup of drip coffee and freshly-baked goodies, in house.

Ranney hopes that “Mug Up” will help promote community togetherness as done years ago for cannery workers and fishermen.

She plans on keeping The Whale’s Tale open from March, if the pipes are thawed, through the end of October, once the lodge is empty.

“My goal was not to compete with the businesses in town. I want to support the other local businesses…,” she said adding that she is already looking forward to grabbing a cup of coffee at Karen Perry’s new coffee shop when it opens in May.

Ranney also offers a ten percent discount for customers who bring their own mug.

In May, Ranney hopes to begin offering soup, bread and salad as well as four different afternoon tea selections including, Cream Tea, Light Tea, Full Tea, and Teddy Bear Tea.

The Whale’s Tale is currently open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and closed Mondays.

“It’s great to see new businesses starting,” said Cathy Renfeldt, executive director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce. “It’s great to see people rallying around them to support them.”

The March 2 grand opening was celebrated with the chamber’s first ever ribbon cutting, featuring comically large scissors and a cheering crowd.

Community members join Wendy Ranney, center, in celebrating the grand opening of The Whale’s Tale in Cordova on Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

“These businesses succeeding, it’s the whole town succeeding,” Renfeldt added.

As Ranney recalled the emotions that ran through her that day, tears filled her eyes.

“I sat in here after Saturday and balled,” she said smiling as she wiped a tear away. “It was such a positive thing. I left the lights on and I just cried.”