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Tomato Bisque Pearl's on the Lake

Idaho’s Farm to Chef Connection: Pearl’s on the Lake

Alex Jacobson is a humble man with an aversion to calling himself “chef.” Although formally trained, Alex’s real education began as a teen in his mother’s kitchen. Arlene Jacobson, who ran the legendary Pack River Store* in Sandpoint, ID, was famous for her home-cooked comfort food. 

Alex graduated high school and went to train at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Over the past 15 years, he earned his chops working in notable restaurants throughout the Bay Area. It was a combination of growing up in a remote mountain community coupled with his experience in the farm-to-fork culinary world of San Francisco that taught Alex to appreciate his resources and cultivate his connections to local farmers. 

In 2018, when Arlene decided to retire, Alex and his wife Brittany (who runs the catering side of the business) bought the Pack River Store from his mother. They always wanted to carry on the family legacy, so following his mother’s recipes, Alex used his formal education to elevate the menu items that locals have come to love, earning the diner multiple “People’s Choice” awards over the years.

When the restaurant site at Beyond Hope Resort was listed for sale, Alex and Brittany had been entertaining the idea of expanding their family business. They were a little nervous, but knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In May of 2022, Pearl’s on the Lake (named for their daughter) opened for business, offering an elevated dining experience with exceptional views of Lake Pend Oreille and Selkirk mountains.

North Idaho presents unique challenges when it comes to supplying local restaurants with quality ingredients. Alex knows he can have ingredients shipped into his rural resort town restaurant, but “that takes a long time and the quality is not guaranteed.” Alex prefers to support local farmers and friends whenever he can, especially when it comes to sourcing tender greens and other seasonal crops.

His suppliers, Jeamette and Troy Lock of Pack River Farm (no affiliation to the Pack River Store; it’s just a regional name) love growing ingredients for local chefs. Jeamette says the fast pace of the restaurant lifestyle keeps her on her toes and she’s inspired by the creativity that chefs bring to her. Pack River Farm’s latest crop success story (grown exclusively for Chef Alex) is chard microgreens. 

While it can be challenging for chefs and kitchen managers to commit to locally sourced ingredients in the shorter growing season of the alpine climate of North Idaho, Alex believes that the flavor wouldn’t be the same without his farm partners. Supporting local farms is vital to the quality of the dishes he’s creating at both Pearl’s on the Lake and Pack River Store, and we may be biased, but this “local connections” philosophy just may be the secret sauce to their successful dining establishments.

*Pack River Store, a general-store-turned-comfort-food-diner, has a unique story of its own. During the 70s and 80s, it served as a central gathering place for area mountain folks where they could also buy groceries, gas, propane–and showers (no joke.) Today, diners enjoy outdoor patio seating next to the Pack River, and the diner is famous for its “sophisticated backwoods comfort food.”