On the Line: Kevin Nagano of Sage Cafe, Part Two

Categories: On the Line
Nagano2.JPG
Photo by Meranda Carter

Part Two of On the Line focuses some more on Kevin Nagano. Possessing firsthand experience of running a dining room provides an invaluable perspective of the customer service necessary to run Sage Cafe. Learn how this shapes his point-of-view, as well as who the person is in that artwork. [Editor's Note: Reminds me of a Garbage Pail Kid. You?] To get up to speed, be sure to read Part One of our interview here.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
The impact a mistake has in the back of the house on the front of the house. Why the phrase "no problem" should never be used in a restaurant. It should be our pleasure, not our job.

What would your last meal on Earth be?

Tortelloni di anata from Collette Fratesi of Coccole Laboratorio del Gusto and a rare rack of lamb.

Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?

My parents. They are such strong-willed individuals. Both have attributes that have shaped me to be the person I am today.

Tell us about your food-service-industry background.

I've worked in almost every facet of the front of the house: from barback to serving to being a wine director. Then I changed directions and started catering, and eventually, I was able to bring it all to Sage Café.

What differentiates you from other sandwich-and-salad brands/chains?
Our menu is small because the true character lies in the daily specials and the uniqueness of our versions of old favorites. For example, our homemade dressing pairings to our salads and our daily soup selections that are not governed by a set menu.

What is your connection to Park Ave in Stanton?
The day we found out [owners Collete and Guido Fratesi] were closing Coccole Laboratorio del Gusto, David Slay emailed me [about being a part of Park Ave]. I had the privilege of working for chef Slay in the front of the house, but I learned a lot about all aspects of a restaurant, especially in his ability to anticipate and envision success, from minute to minute as well as long term.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in the area?
I haven't had the chance to try too many yet. I like the food at Cappy's.

Please explain the artwork, specifically the one on your business card.

Our mascot's name is Fat Mona. It symbolizes the quality of high-end tastes, mixed with a comical homey feeling. The rest of the artwork changes with the season.

What dish would you tell newcomers to Sage Cafe to try?
The sesame salad. The dressing is light yet bold in flavor, and the blend of ingredients makes it unique.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would be coaching. I used to be a varsity volleyball and soccer coach, and I miss it every day.

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?

Make sure you are prepared to put your heart and soul into it, and don't get discouraged; the rewards are truly worth it.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I hope to have moved Sage to a larger location, and by 10, I hope to have a couple of more locations.

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Sage Cafe

735 W. Baker St., Costa Mesa, CA

Category: Restaurant

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