It’s been nearly 25 years since Loi and Tualagi Sagato and their children first sold pineapple pies, coconut shortbread and steam buns from a tote atop a small folding table in a Kearns park, hoping to earn a few extra dollars between games of rugby and cricket.
Since then, the Sagatos also have made the rounds at area festivals, opened a catering business and rented a space inside London Market, the closure of which pushed everyone in the family to fully invest in Loi and Tualagi Sagato’s longtime dream — a place where they can share their Pacific Islander food and culture.
In December, they made it official, opening Sagato Bakery & Cafe at 44 W. 7200 South in Midvale.
While parents Loi and Tualagi Sagato and all five of their children own the business, other relatives, spouses and even some of their children’s friends jumped in to help. A cousin, Aljay Fuimaono, painted the breathtaking wall-length mural, a Pacific-inspired portrait of mom Tualagi Sagato.
“In every sense of the word, it’s a family business. So even … my husband [and] some of his family members, they work there too now,” daughter and co-owner Verona Mauga said. “It’s been really cool, teaching people to do things they’ve never done, like bake and cook and make desserts.”
Pacific Islander delicacies, including the Samoan family’s signature baked goods and meat pies, dominate the menu, which includes new generation cakes and cupcakes created by the Sagato children. The cafe also carries drinks and condiments from New Zealand, Australia and other Pacific countries — stuff Mauga says she and her siblings grew up on.
After sampling all three of the meat pies ($4.95-$5.25), I could see why they’re such a hit with Sagato’s customers. The crust flakes as you bite into the buttery, crisp puff pastry that envelops a savory center filled with either steak and mozzarella cheese, mincemeat and cheddar, or a chicken, pea, carrot and potato mixture reminiscent of pot pie. My recommendation: Order the mince meat pie with the potato topping — it’s one of my new obsessions.
The sausage roll ($3.95) also makes use of the puff pastry, which hugs a thick link of pork and beef ground together with various seasonings. Expertly cooked, the meat remained moist inside while the dough retained a crisp exterior.
If you’re looking for leftovers to take to work — or, who am I kidding, for a late-night snack — try one of the combination plates ($8.50 for one meat, $10.95 for two meats, $13.95 for three meats). Since each plate comes with sticky white rice and macaroni salad, the hard part might be choosing a protein.
But you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Mauga said her family slow roasts the kalua pig for eight to 10 hours, which keeps the pork moist and tender. Although cooked in the same teriyaki sauce, the chicken and steak bring out different notes in the glaze. The chicken, which sometimes gets a nice char, can be a bit smoky while the steak seems sweeter, almost fruity.
Among the savory items, only the kekepua’a ($2.95), or steam pork bun, brought any heat. Mauga said they marinate the pork in a dark mushroom soy sauce and a mix of onions, pepper and various seasonings — creating an umami bomb with a slow build of spice. Unfortunately, the filling felt lost in the massive dome of dough, throwing the balance of the dish off for me.
But my biggest complaint about Sagato’s savory items comes back to consistency, leaving me to wonder if there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Some examples:
The macaroni salad had been mixed with an excessive amount of mayonnaise on my first visit. But it was perfect the second time around.
The temperature of the meat pies varied — from scalding hot to lukewarm.
The chicken meat pie was extremely salty, while the macaroni salad had almost no seasoning.
I didn’t notice the same issues with Sagato’s baked goods, although the Lamington ($3.50) ate a little dry and, in my opinion, needed more whipped cream. I especially enjoyed the croissant ($1.49) slathered generously with a decadent chocolate paste and the tangy guava cake ($3.95). But the haupia cake ($3.95) stole the show with a perfectly executed bake and its delicate coconut cream pudding.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without trying the pineapple pie ($3.50). The pastry dough delivered yet again, and the chunky pineapple filling struck the perfect note between sweet and tart. Mauga said her family adjusted the original recipe based on customer feedback.
“We were hearing that it was too tart … but then we [also] got customers who are like, it's too sweet, and so we think we found the right balance.”
The change gives me hope that the family will iron out some of the inconsistencies with seasoning, temperature and overall balance. Based on my conversation with Mauga, the family still is figuring out how to transition from a small-scale operation to a full-fledged business.
But they’re learning quickly.
Sagato Bakery & Cafe • ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Family-owned and operated Sagato Bakery & Cafe specializes in Pacific Islander delicacies, including meat pies and baked goods.
Food • ★★★
Mood • ★★★1/2
Service • ★★★
Location • 44 W. 7200 South, Midvale; 385-557-1728 or https://www.sagatofoods.com
Hours • 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Entrée Price • $-$$
Children’s Menu • Yes
Liquor • No
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
Onsite parking • Yes
Credit cards • All