Public Radio for Alaska's Bristol Bay
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Igiugig has a new, student-run cafe

Sometimes, after flying across Southwest Alaska in multiple small planes in the dead of winter, the only thing you want is a hot cup of coffee. And you’re in luck if your destination happens to be Igiugig, a small village at the head of the Kvichak River on Iliamna Lake.

The easiest way to reach Igiugig in the winter is by plane. Visitors who disembark there walk past a sign that says Igyaram Mic’araa — Igiugig airport in Yup'ik — and through the building’s double doors. To the left is a small, neat cafe. Bottles of flavored syrups line one wall and a shiny red espresso machine sits in the corner next to a sink and stacks of paper cups.

The student-run shop offers refreshments to community members, visitors and those flying further across the vast expanses of Bristol Bay.

An Igiugig student works a morning shift at the cafe. Jan. 18, 2023.
Izzy Ross
An Igiugig student works a morning shift at the cafe. Jan. 18, 2023.

Denali Bybee, 14, Avery Nelson, 13, and several of their classmates have worked in shifts at the cafe since it opened November. They’ve earned more than $6,000 for their student government — money to put toward class trips and projects.

“It’s part of the student council, so it goes to the school,” Nelson said. “We have a Halloween carnival every year. School trips, things we need and stuff.”

Both students enjoy different parts of the job: Bybee likes making the coffee shots, while Nelson prefers adding the flavored syrups and powder.

The cafe adds another layer of activity to Igiugig's already bustling airport, which is both a permanent fixture in the village and a temporary stop-over for many travelers.

The airport is a special place. Black and white photos line the hallway walls — archival pictures of local families. In a glass case across the hall, a taxidermied white wolf is poised to swat at an belligerent-looking stuffed wolverine. Near the airport's entrance is the Igiugig Gift Shop, which has local items for sale: Jewelry, baskets, dolls, paintings and prints, books, and a fair amount of swag for those who want to support the school’s sports team, the No-See-Ums.

The airport is also a meeting place. A couple office rooms are dedicated to a variety of work, from the Native Corporation's administration and Village Council meetings to infrastructure planning and general maintenance. That means the cafe's regulars are locals who have their own special drinks.

“White chocolate mocha with coconut,” Nelson said. “Americano with caramel and hazelnut,” said Bybee, naming a favorite of Tribal Council President AlexAnna Salmon. “It’s called a 'M'dame President,'" Nelson added.

Whether flying over Bristol Bay’s lakes, tundra and mountains or walking down the road for a community meeting, coffee at the Igiugig airport is a delight for all.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.