Pago: Sustainability, In-Field Dining & The Future of Farming for Restaurants

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Scott Evans, owner of Pago, in his backyard garden, which currently supplies veggies for his restaurant. Photo: Barrett Doran

878 S. 900 E.
Phone: 801.532.0777
(reservations recommended)

Summer Hours:
Lunch: Tues. - Fri, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dinner: Tues. - Sun., 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Brunch Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Closed Mon.  and from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. daily

Behind an average yet well kept house near the suburban Sugarhouse district of Salt Lake City sits a micro-farm, or “hobby farm,” as owner Scott Evans puts it. He is an agricultural driver beneath a growing, worldwide movement. It fits somewhere under the “organic” or “slow food” monikers and is most accurately referred to as “farm to table.” Since May 2009,  Evans has been enacting what is increasingly more commonplace in other, more food-forward cities like San Francisco and Portland—an almost entirely locally sustained restaurant where in the summertime, “85 percent to 95 percent of the food is sourced locally,” says Evans.

This is a sharp contrast to your average fast food restaurant, where nearly all of the food is frozen and shipped in from parts unknown and definitely distant enough to be environmentally harming. Evans, a student of true cost economics, is defiant of such practices, and is one of the few local restaurateurs who has both eyes and vision. His personal farm houses a myriad of plants which all go to Pago. This year, his 7,000 square foot garden is “all in,” supplying his 1,000 square foot restaurant with two varieties of corn, zucchini, calypso cilantro, tatsoi, rosa bianca eggplant and royal burgundy snap beans—all heritage seeds when available, and decidedly organic. He started the farm last year with the help of Matt Morganti of M&M Farms and now consults with Morganti on technical issues.

Evans’ garden is so heritage, in fact, that it houses a “tres hermanos” technique of ancient agriculture—a type of growing process that puts vine plants like peas and beans at the base of corn to keep the soil free of weeds, increase pollination and fix nitrogen in the soil to help the corn grow and maximize space, concurrently. “It’s working, but I think I planted them too far apart. Every year is an experiment. It’s to learn more about the process and appreciate the produce at the restaurant we get from other people a little more.” His future goal is even more ambitious. “I would like to know how many acres it would take to support a restaurant. That’s a long term goal of mine—to be a full-size farm for the restaurant, have pigs, cows, chicken eggs and a farm supporting the restaurant,” he says.

While his hobby farm is growing outdoors, Evans is focusing inward on what has made his restaurant a dining destination for a crowd in the “foodie know” with a menu that is slightly more diverse than other fine dining establishments in town. “I like to dine in casual fine dining. I want the food to be as good as it can be, no holds barred in terms of ingredients and style, yet I like it to be more rustic and casual. I like the art of service as well, ” says Evans. Part of retaining and gathering the type of staff essential for good service is finding passionate and knowledgeable servers.

As a former server himself, Evans appreciates this fact more than others, and consequently keeps his staff without as much turnover as typical restaurants in the area. “I pay higher than standard for every position. That, to me, is what I wanted to do to be sustainable, not only to buy the right food, but get the right staff and pay them well,” says Evans. “The servers make great money, and they care about food and they like what they’re doing. We try to be responsible in all aspects.” The approach is atypical for local food purveyors.

Ultimately, Pago’s entire approach is anything but typical. “I don’t think there is really anybody trying to be like us [in SLC],” Evans says. “People have been using local products as long as they’ve been around. My little qualm is that they buy it once and they can say they buy it local. With us, it’s a little different philosophy. I figured it out at one point—how much money we spend on local food and local farmers and it’s insane. Whenever possible, we’re going to buy local first. You’re not going to get heirloom tomatoes in December [at Pago], unless we have a green house.”
Evans draws from a wide variety of farms, ranging from Morgan Valley Lamb in Delta, Pleasant Creek Ranch in Nephi and Eden’s Sandhill Farms. Sandhill Farms was the location of one of Evans’ greatest accolades to date, as Pago was featured in an Outstanding in the Field dining event. The defining message of that organization is to reestablish their diners’ relationship to land and “honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” 

Evans says of the experience, “It was killer, it was really cool. They travel the world and contact local restaurants and say, ‘we want you to be the caterer of this event.’ It’s their event and we’re the guest chef. They have all the materials and staff the front of house. They lend their name. It is kind of like the James Beard’s farm and table restaurants,” referencing the infamous organization of award-giving gourmands in the U.S. “The vast majority of restaurants Outstanding in the Field has worked with in the past are incredible restaurants [with] good chefs, great reputations, and they’re all doing the farm to table, all local food. This was the first time they’ve wanted to come through Salt Lake, which was a good honor for us. We were pretty stoked,” says Evans.

Pago’s executive chef, Michael Richey, was a key part of that “in-field dining event” and a deciding player in the birth of Evans’ garden. Richey and Evans sat down earlier this year and planned out Pago’s summer menu while Evans began planting—both were essential to the experiment. The garden will always be in Evans’ backyard and will be able to feed his family at the very least as a sustainable farm plot. As for Pago’s long-term sustainability, Evans says, “Pago is definitely sustainable. Pago will be around as far as I can see right now. Part of that is because it’s so small—it has 45 seats. I’m never going to be a millionaire with that restaurant—no matter if I’m full open to close. I’ll make a decent living, and it will feed my family and so will [my employees].”
For those who haven’t dined at Pago yet, keep in mind that, although the menu changes with the seasons, the atmosphere and quality are always consistent. “The future of Pago is to keep Pago the same, which is to constantly change,” says Evans. “Part of my passion, among other things, is beer, wine and spirits, and I try to have an artisan beer and wine. We’re trying, in our very small way, to represent all those categories and bring in a lot of stuff you can’t get anywhere. We work closely with the local breweries and get some cool beers. There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the beer world in Salt Lake, and we try to support it.”

Visit Pago this fall and you’ll most likely get a taste of Asian greens from Evans’ hobby farm, a vintage you’ve never tried and freshness that you’d be hard pressed to
find elsewhere.

Scott Evans, owner of Pago, in his backyard garden, which currently supplies veggies for  his restaurant. Photo: Barrett Doran Photo: Barrett Doran Photo: Barrett Doran