Friday, April 27, 2012

Logan Steps Up to the Mic

 Every Thursday night there is a line spilling out the door at the Pizza Pie Café. Music blares whenever the door is opened, and lasers can be seen flashing around the walls inside.

 It’s karaoke night at the Pizza Pie Café.

 Students flock here by the hundreds, bringing along dates, family or their roommates to indulge in all-you-can-eat pizza and the spectacle of seeing their classmates in the limelight—if only for a few minutes.

 However, this will be students’ last chance to sing before fall—the karaoke nights won’t be featured over the summer.

 “We are closing down for the summer,” said DJ Brady McDonald. “We will be coming back in the fall, but we are expecting most the kids won’t be here during the summer.”

 The night was spearheaded by McDonald, who started karaoke nights at the Pizza Pie Café in his hometown of Provo.

 “We started down in Provo, and they wanted it up here because it’s a college town too,” McDonald said. “We average about 300 kids down there. Because of the size of this location, we average about 400 kids here.”

 For the last three months, McDonald has watched the night become a local phenomenon. As the owner of Rock the Mic Entertainment, McDonald has a lot of experience hosting karaoke nights around Provo and Salt Lake City.

 But few places have taken off like the karaoke nights in Logan.

 “We do karaoke all over the state,” McDonald said. “This one is by far one of the most successful ones, and the five dollar buffet really helps too.”

 Students spread the word quickly, often bringing along friends who have never been. Katelyn Wallace, a student at Utah State University, brought several friends for their first karaoke experience.

 “I’ve only been once before. It is fun and they’ve never been,” Wallace said. “I don’t sing though—I just don’t.”

 Prizes are offered for those brave enough to pick up the microphone. They include gift cards, free products and a free helicopter ride.

 Despite the allure of prizes, Tony Brown, a student at USU, knows the moment has to be just right before he will sing in front of the sizable crowd gathered inside the restaurant.

 “I might go up and sing,” Brown said. “Inspiration will come, and that’s when I’ll sing.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Small businesses are a personal touch in Logan

  In 2009, Texas Roadhouse came to Logan, joining Olive Garden and Chili’s as the premier chain restaurants in the valley.

 As a college town, there is no shortage of eateries in Logan. Fast food chains such as Burger King and Wendy’s dot Main Street. Chains such as Ihop and Café Rio catch the eye as hungry students look for recognizable signs of their favorite restaurants.

 Among the all the neon open signs and 30-foot high signs bearing familiar logos, however, are restaurants with a more personal touch. Restaurants founded in—and exclusive to—Logan.

. “We have something different for Logan; things that other cities don’t have,” said Ciara Connors, head manager for Le Nonne. “We have something unique they’ve never tried.”

 Le Nonne is one of the best known Italian restaurants to locals in the valley, and has won several awards for its authentic Italian cuisine.

 Angie’s is another well-known restaurant in Logan. So much so that it bear’s the slogan, “Where the locals eat.”

 Angie’s was founded by Saboor Sahely, who immigrated to America from Afghanistan in the ‘70s. Sahely came to America for an education little more than the clothes on his back.

 “I have to be always working hard to compete with the chain restaurants with huge capital,” Sahely said. “I don’t have the backing of a major corporation with a lot of money. I have to take every dime and a quarter and make it work.”

 Heather Senti established her own successful restaurant in Salt Lake City before being recruited to manage Herm’s Inn here in Logan.  Senti believes that these home-grown restaurants are vital to a city’s character.

  “Small businesses are what make the larger ones all run here in any city,” Senti said. “The more local people can go out and support the local businesses the better off the cities are.”

 Senti also said that money spent at a local business stays in the community and supports the local economy. Larger chains just don’t have the same effect and often put these smaller stores out of business, Senti noted.

 The Indian Oven down the road is run by an Indian immigrant who developed his talent for cooking while working on a freight ship.

 Jack’s Woodfired Pizza on Main Street was founded by a husband and wife, and their son works for them as a cashier.

 The Pauni family founded their own catering and entertainment business, with the children growing up performing traditional island dances for their clients.

 Joe Pauni learned from his father the importance of what they were doing: sharing their unique food and culture for everybody to enjoy.

 “That’s the main reason why my dad got into it,” Pauni said. “He could see how much people appreciated experiencing and learning about different cultures, especially our culture. It was important to him and now it’s important to us.”

 For Connors, owning a small business is far more challenging and personal than a corporate owned restaurant.

 “The people that own their own restaurant care so much because it is their livelihood and how they support their family,” Connors said. “So they put a lot more thought into it—they try to be the best that they can.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Ice Cream of the Crop

 Summer is approaching. The days are getting longer and hotter, barbeque grills are being dusted off after several months of neglect and ice cream trucks are cruising through neighborhoods across the country, drawing children after them like suburban pied pipers.

 In Logan however there is a special brand of ice cream that doesn’t need an ice cream truck to draw customers. On the contrary, people around the state make pilgrimages to Cache Valley for Aggie Ice Cream.

 In circles outside of Logan, Aggie Ice Cream is considered the Mecca of Ice-Creamery,” said Zach Stickney, a resident of Layton. “I am always sure to make the trip at least once annually.”

 The ice cream, which is made from cows raised on the university dairy farm, is produced on campus by staff and students. Randall Bagley manages the production of ice cream and knows why Aggie Ice Cream is different from other ice creams.

 “We try to use the best flavorings we can find. Instead of using artificial vanilla we’ll use a real two-bourbon vanilla,” Bagley said. “We tried to find a good peppermint flavor and we went through 10 before we found one we liked.”

 In addition to flavoring, the ice cream on campus has a secret that distinguishes it from lesser ice creams.

 “It has a high butter fat that makes it creamier and richer,” Bagley said. “To legally call it ice cream you have to have 10 percent butter fat, and we have 12 percent.”

 Another factor that contributes to the ice cream’s richness is a lower amount of air put into the ice cream, making it denser and richer.

 “They have really good food and their ice cream is awesome,” said Katelyn McDonald, a student at Utah State University. “It just tastes better.”

 The creamery has had a long time to perfect its ice cream recipe. Aggie Ice Cream started shortly after the college was founded in 1888.

 “We’ve been open over 100 years,” Bagley said. “We are one of the oldest creameries and dairies in the state.”

 McDonald and her friend Millie Struve will often stop by Aggie Ice Cream for a cone after class. Struve likes how affordable the food is and how nice the employees are.

 But in the end it’s all about the ice cream.

 “I like it because it’s on campus, they have a wide selection and it’s delicious,” said USU student Richard Jemenez.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Wedding Planners

 It’s the end of the school year. As students and professors anticipate the warm freedom of summer, restaurants around the valley prepare themselves for a change of season as well.
 For the restaurants though, it isn’t summer they anticipate – it is wedding season.

 “Summer is huge,” said Jamie Humphreys, an event coordinator for the Riverwoods Conference Center.  “In June we are catering 20 plus weddings – almost a wedding every day. On June 23 I have three weddings.”
  Summer isn’t the only time local restaurants will scramble to cater weddings. According to Dustin McKay, head chef of Elements restaurant, the number of weddings surge whenever students leave school.

 “Right after school gets out, the first two or three weeks are the wedding season,” McKay said. “We typically get a peak in December after finals week when everyone is out of school. When spring break hits it will get busy too because they have a week off and can have their honeymoons.”
 In a college town, catering weddings is big business. Engagement ring jewelers, tuxedo shops and dress stores line Main Street in Logan. Many of the well-known restaurants in Cache Valley offer wedding catering services.

 Gia’s, Le Nonne, the Coppermill, Elements, Beehive Grill, the Bluebird and even chains like Café Rio all have business in catering weddings. For the Bluebird however, the weddings don’t fluctuate with the seasons.
 “We have about three or four a week,” said Bluebird manager Gui Xu. “It generally stays the same year round.”

 The competition is stiff, however. A few buildings down is the Coppermill, which is owned and operated by the same people as Elements. Down the street are Gia’s and the Beehive Grill, which also have wedding catering services.
 “It’s hard,” Xu said. “There are a few restaurants out there trying to do the same business as us.”

 Catering weddings is no easy business either. According to McKay, what makes a good wedding can change with time—and the bride.
 Chocolate fountains used to be a must at weddings. Now, cupcake trays and cheesecake buffets are the fashion. For some, crepes are the ideal dessert rather than a cake.

 Some brides prefer crepes as the dessert over a traditional cake.
 One couple hired McKay to cook carnival-themed wedding with funnel cakes and corn dogs as the main fare.

 “There are always trends that evolve that we try to meet,” McKay said. “We try and do all that we can to satisfy the needs of the clients.”

 For Humphreys, planning a wedding can be a strenuous and stressful affair.

  “There’s constant contact with the couple and their family,” Humphreys said.  “Then there’s what room they would like to be in, the setup of the room and the décor. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into it.”
 Humphreys also noted that despite the long hours of planning, cooking and consulting that go into catering a wedding, there is a silver lining to the job as well.

 “I enjoy making these families happy,” Humphreys said. “That is what I love the most: making their dream happen.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gossner Foods makes plant additions

 Tyler Udy grew up around cheese.

 As Edward Gossner’s great-grandson, the Gossner Foods factory has always been a part of Udy’s life.
 “I’ve been in and out of here all my life,” Udy said. “I always would work summer jobs here growing up, and now I’m an owner.”

 And he finds himself engrossed in one of the largest expansions the factory has had since its founding.
 “We’ve grown enough and our customers are taking enough that we needed to expand the store. We are way excited about it,” Udy said. “We’ve built two new additions this year: one for the cheese plant and one for the milk plant. One of them is actually an airplane hangar.”

 For nearly 46 years, Gossner Foods has been a household name in northern Utah. Since its founding, Gossner’s has been family owned.
 The company was founded in 1966 by a Swiss immigrant named Edward Gossner, a cheese maker who left his homeland to seek success in America.

 He first joined his brother, a successful cheese maker, in Wisconsin producing Swiss cheese. His brother left Switzerland seven years earlier and had created his own cheese plant. Gossner later inherited this plant from his brother.

 On a family trip Gossner drove through Cache Valley and was reminded of home. The climate of the valley was similar to Switzerland, where he had first learned to make his specialty Swiss cheese.
 Not long after that, Gossner founded a Swiss cheese plant outside of Logan – the largest in the world at the time.

 However, Gossner Foods wasn’t the only cheese venture of Edward Gossner.
 “Cache Valley Cheese was actually started by Edward Gossner,” Udy said. “We actually do a little bit with that brand, but that’s not us anymore.”

 A couple years after founding Cache Valley Cheese, Gossner split with his partners and started again – this time forming Gossner Foods.
 Cache Valley Cheese is now located in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

 Kelly Luthi has worked in the Gossner Foods plant for 27 years. He remembers the when Gossner Foods developed a unique way to package milk, which would later become their biggest industry.
 “We’re the oldest company in the United State doing shelf-stable milk,” Luthi said. “It is fluid dairy milk that’s packaged in such a way that it doesn’t require refrigeration until it’s opened.”

 The milk, which comes in 8 ounce and quart size cartons, stays fresh without refrigeration until it is opened and is preservative free. The milk is distinctive, but commonplace in the pantries of Cache Valley locals.
 The milk is not only consumed by locals – it is produced by them too.

 “All of our cheese is made from milk coming out of local farms and dairies,” Udy said. “I don’t think a day goes by that we aren’t reminded by our boss that without the farmers, we’re nothing.”
 With the new additions more milk can be stored, more cheese can be produced, and that means more business for local farmers.

 “We are a fourth generation family company,” Udy said. “And we support local farmers and local families.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Angie's: an American success story

 May 11 marks 34 years since Saboor Sahey left his homeland of Afghanistan for America. The country was in turmoil and soon would be invaded by Soviet troops, beginning a communist regime.
 With $300 dollars hidden in a tube of toothpaste, he passed by dozens of armed troops that filled the airport. Scraping through security with his hidden life-savings intact, Sahey escaped the war and headed to the US with the few possessions he had left.
 His destination: Logan, Utah.
 A high school friend of Sahey’s suggested he come to Utah State University, sending him an application in the mail. Sahey was accepted, but had no money for tuition.
 Over the next three years, Sahey would wash dishes all night until classes started in the morning. He would work two jobs in the summer to save for the next semester of school at Utah State.

 “I would have to work 40-50 a week just to pay for my food and my room and my board and everything else,” Sahey said. “I never received a dime from my parents. The war had cut off all communications with Afghanistan and they couldn’t send a thing.”
 By the time he would graduate, he had risen through the ranks to be the store manager of Sambo’s restaurant – three years after arriving off a plane with all his savings hidden in a tube of toothpaste.

 He was promoted. He moved to Oregon as a district manager over several west coast Sambo’s restaurants. While there he would meet his wife and they would have their first child, a girl named Angie.
 Sambo’s went out of business, and Sahey returned to Cache Valley to start his own restaurant – right back where he had taken his first job in Logan.

 “We came back to Logan, got a small loan, talked to the landlord and opened Angie’s in the old Sambo’s location,” Sahey said. “So I came back to the same restaurant where I started as a dishwasher.”
 In the beginning, Sahey and his wife worked 19 hour days to keep the restaurant open. He cooked the meals. She was the waitress. He did all the bookkeeping. She baked all the desserts and rolls.

 “We started with 15 employees,” Sahey said. “For the first year, I opened the restaurant and I closed the restaurant. I’d be there at five in the morning and close it at midnight.”
 Today, the restaurant has 75 employees and a clientele that is true to the logo on the sign out front: “Where the locals eat.”

 “I come about twice a week. From the first time I came, I’ve always been treated like family,” said customer Anita Kambestad. “They know my name. They talk to me about things that are going on, about housework, about how my kids are doing.”
 Dan Dee visits Angie’s every Monday for coffee – and meets his friends there most nights of the week too.

 “I love the people and the coffee,” Dee said.
 Despite the countless hours of work he has put into the restaurant, Sahey credits his customers for the restaurant’s success.

 “Everything I have I owe to this country and this community. This community supported us through thick and thin, up to where we are today,” said Sahey. “Wherever we can, we try to give something back to the community to show our appreciation.”
 From local blood drives to free meals on Thanksgiving, Angie’s is constant and consistent in its charity. The feeling of family among staff and customer is what makes the restaurant a household name in Cache Valley.

 Whether it’s a group of students finishing off a tin full of ice cream known as “the Sink”, or a few old friends getting together to talk about days past, this is a restaurant ingrained in its community.
 “The food is really good, I enjoy the atmosphere and I enjoy the people,” Kambestad said. “That’s why I come here.”

Local family bring the islands to Cache Valley

 Friday marks the annual luau hosted by the Polynesian Student Union at Utah State University. The luau offers a variety of traditional Polynesian dances and food. For the students of USU, it is an opportunity to experience a new culture and a night of traditional entertainment.

 For the Pauni family, it is business as usual.
 Hailing from Tonga, the Pauni’s are a staple of USU’s annual luau – and are likely to be found at any other island-themed party in the valley. A family of nine, they comprise Pauni Island Catering and Entertainment.
 The Pauni’s moved to Cache Valley from Tonga in 1990. Seneti Pauni, or “Janet” as she likes to be called, began a small catering business while her husband worked his own landscaping business. Pauni knew some traditional Polynesian dances, and began teaching her children to dance so they could entertain her clients as they ate.
 “When you’re a kid, you just start doing something and it becomes normal,” said son Joe Pauni. “To us, it was just normal to learn how to dance and cook.”
 Soon the children knew traditional dances from Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and Hawaii. As the children grew, they helped their mother in more aspects of the business. Now as the children begin families of their own, their children join perform in the luaus as well – some began at the age of five and six.
 “The kids all join in,” said daughter Ati Velasquez. “They do the haka, they do the hula from Hawaii, and they do the Fijian dance from Fiji.”

 As the family grew, so did their business. The Pauni family isn’t an exclusively Cache Valley institution anymore.
 “This week we have the Kite Festival in St. George and the Earth Festival in Ogden,” Janet Pauni said. “We go from St. George to Idaho. Throughout the year we go to about 18 festivals.”
 However, the family didn’t come to the United States with a vision of owning a successful catering business. For Janet and her husband, they left home and family to give their children a better education – and a brighter future.
“On the island, you finish high school and that’s it,” the mother said. “We wanted our kids to go to a university and to have better lives with their future families.”
 After Janet Pauni’s husband passed away in 2004, she was left both to run her late husband’s business and provide for their nine kids. Struggling to maintain her catering business while finishing landscaping jobs, Pauni started finishing fewer jobs on time – and had to pay back the money loaned as a penalty.
 To survive, she started pulling her children out of school to help her finish the jobs. The dream of her children going to college started to fade. Beneath the weight of two businesses and a mortgage, the family struggled to live day to day.
 Then Janet Pauni applied to the television show Extreme Home Makeover.
  “I watched the show and it said that anybody can apply for it,” Pauni said. “So I turned in an application.”
  She wrote how they had left Tonga for their children’s schooling. She described her husband’s passing, and her being forced to be the mom and the dad. She also wrote of her business, and her dream of having her own commercial kitchen for catering. If she couldn’t pay her mortgage, all they had worked for would have been for nothing. She pleaded for them to help make their dreams come true.
 In 2006 Extreme Home Makeover came to Logan, Utah. The Pauni’s received a spacious new home on the quiet street where they resided, which was provided entirely by the show. Janet Pauni finally got the catering kitchen she had been dreaming of. All their problems weren’t solved, but now the dream seemed within reach.
 “Life is easier now,” Pauni said. “Not easy, but easier.”
 The family knows the success of their business – and overcoming their trials – has all stemmed from the strength of the family.
 “Even my siblings that are all married try and help out my mom whenever they can,” Joe Pauni said. “They are willing to drop whatever they are doing and just come help. We are all there for each other.”