“We just fell in love with the food.”
The brief eight-word sentiment was all it took for Gwynne Stump and her husband, Kurt, to open SloCo Pasty Co. in 2010. The restaurant is known for its authentic British staple, the often misunderstood pasty.
The cuisine’s biggest misfortune: It’s a pasty, not a pastry.
A pasty is a British baked pastry with a meat or vegetable-based filling. The filling is prepared at night and cooked with freshly baked dough in the morning.
In simpler terms, a pasty can be compared to an English calzone.
According to SloCo Pasty Co. general manager Maureen Jensen — fondly referred to by customers as “Momma Mo” — the pasty-versus-pastry debacle has created a whole crop of issues.
“A lot of people don’t have a clue what a pasty is,” Jensen said. “Your mind automatically wants to put an ‘r’ in there.”
But the “r” would detract from the business Gwynne and Kurt have spent years producing. Both being scientific professionals — Kurt in radiation treatment, Gwynne in biology — pasty-making was always a pipe dream.
“It was one of those things you always kicked around the back of your head but never thought you’d actually commit to,” Stump said.
But they did.
The couple took the project head-on, doing the majority of the finishing work before the restaurant opened.
Kurt designed and built the bar and all the tables. He created and installed the beer system. He somehow had time to start and maintain the website, too.
But the birth of now-2-year-old Kagan and 4-month-old Kyla slowly but surely made managing a restaurant too difficult to do by themselves.[toggle title=”A Family Affair” state=”open” ] [/toggle]
So about two years ago, the couple hired on more cooks and took a step back.
Gwynne was born to be busy — she’s of the rare kind for whom efficiency and multitasking can peacefully coexist. Between nurturing coos to Kyla, she explained the roadblocks SloCo Pasty Co. has faced over the past few years and the efforts taken to hurdle them.
In a town full of college students, businesses rapidly adjust to serve their main market. This means turnover rates are high.
“Probably one of the hardest things is being in the downtown area,” Stump said. “There are much more restaurants than are needed.”
Stump said the restaurant’s traction isn’t as high as it could be. She’s noticed a certain homogeny that governs college students’ decisions on where to eat.
They tend to gravitate toward food that’s cheap and simple. This hasn’t helped the pasties much, since their process is more time-consuming and complex in nature.
“We’re always looking for ways to try to market and get more students,” she said. “Sometimes we luck out, sometimes we don’t.”[toggle title=”One of a kind” state=”open” ] [/toggle]
But the restaurant has a novel edge to it.
It’s not a chain. It’s not a franchise. In its beginnings, the Stumps pondered SloCo Pasty Co.’s possible expansion, but once diapers and cribs came into the picture, the idea didn’t pan out.
After a while, Stump had difficulty remaining an active presence in the restaurant.
“For the first two years, I was here all day every day — seven days a week, 12-14-hour days consistently,” Stump said. “But with two kids under two, basically I get to work on restaurant stuff when they’re down for naps.”
Despite its internal shifts, the restaurant has stayed true to its roots. Jenson said the pasties do exceptionally well at the annual Renaissance Festival, which is held every summer at Laguna Lake Park.
The restaurant provides upwards of 1,500 pasties for the festival, sometimes beginning preparation months in advance.
The restaurant also struggles to get people past the stigma and prejudice of British food, Jenson said.
“People might think British food is bland, but they have a lot of different spices and flavors in their food,” Jensen said. “We have good beers, and a great staff — it’s just hard to get our name out there.”
Jensen hopes in the years to come, SloCo Pasty Co. will make a name for itself. The restaurant has begun approaching this goal by catering fraternities and fundraisers at Cal Poly.
“I hope that we can become bigger in the community and start to branch out more,” she said.
It also hosts weekly Irish-style musical performances on Wednesdays.
But existing in its little niche hasn’t been so bad for SloCo Pasty Co., either. For Jenson, the intimacy of the restaurant has brewed a kind customer culture and a caring work environment.
“I’ve met some really amazing people from being here, and I’ve enjoyed hearing their tales,” Jensen said. “To hear their stories of how they met their husband or movie stars or their travels around Europe — I can’t get enough of it.”
Bartender and server Cody O’Briant has been with the restaurant from day one. He found SloCo Pasty Co. while perusing pub-style restaurants on Craigslist.
“It’s been a learning experience,” he said. “A lot of things have evolved and changed but the food has always been good.”
His favorite part is probably the free pasties, he said. It’s been approximately five years now, and O’Briant still takes one home every shift.
He hasn’t gotten sick of them yet.