If living well is the best revenge, devouring one of Kathy Masunaga’s deep-dish pies is one ticket to bliss.
At the same time, it gives the Sweet Revenge bakery owner immense satisfaction whenever she gains a devoted customer. Before she started the bakery in 2011, Masunaga said, “I spent a lot of years being told that I couldn’t cook for anything.”
A bad divorce followed.
“There was an expectation that I wouldn’t be able to make it on my own.”
She had two teenaged boys to care for with meager financial support, and needed to make a living, so Masunaga fell back on a skill that was in her blood. Her family had founded Fujiya Ltd. when she was 5, and she grew up learning to make the Japanese/local sweets the company was known for.
Masunaga started making desserts for a caterer (also her mentor) in 2009, and selling some of her baked goods at farmers markets. Sweet and savory pies became her specialty, and soon they were selling out and earning her praisefrom customers.
Masunaga called her business Sweet Revenge, not to get even with anyone, but as an affirmation of self: “The big thing I come out with is, I have two amazing kids and I’m on my own two feet. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, which is the real important part. I work like a lunatic and I don’t have a life outside … but I’m still having a good time.”
Masunaga’s introduction to baking, business and hard work began at Fujiya, founded in 1953 by her grandfather, her father (Yoshihiko Tamada) and his two siblings (the company is now under different ownership).
“I remember watching my dad tinker with a new product and his teaching me that you always wanted to stand behind the quality of your product. I worked in the factory from when I was old enough to not be in the way.”
She said she’s been fortunate to have very good mentors and, “I basically read a ton of books — not necessarily for recipes, but I love the way pastry chefs and bakers think about the science and art of the craft. … These are my version of rock stars.”
Among them are celebrated bakers Joanne Chang, Dominique Ansel, Rose Levy Beranbaum and Jacquy Pfeiffer, head of The French Pastry School in Chicago, which she dreams of attending one day. She also won a mentorship that allowed her to spend a week with nationally acclaimed pastry chef Gale Gand of Chicago.
Her bakery, which has been on Robello Lane in Palama for two years, is just a commercial kitchen — no display cases or the usual retail furnishings. The outside front wall is an eye-catching hot pink, emblazoned with the words, “Come fill your pie hole.” A food truck in the same vivid shade, driven only to special events, sits in the small parking lot, printed with such promises as: “All butter, all the time,” and “Real ingredients, no funny stuff.”
Masunaga’s road to independence was surely paved with the flaky, buttery crusts of pies, which are the most fun for her to make, and they allow her the flexibility to create sweet desserts as well as savory meal-type pies. She’s always trying new combinations.
“I don’t want to do what’s already been done. I try really hard so it’s a different beast. I make it my way!”
Among the 200-plus pies she sells per week, the most popular are those she brings to various farmers markets: chicken pot pie, two kinds of quiche, a “lilimansi” (lilikoi/calamansi), a lilikoi chiffon and pumpkin crunch. Also available are weekly pie specials like bacon mac and cheese, or chili with a cornbread crust, and for dessert, a snickerdoodle, and black-bottom banana cream. The menus are posted via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram every Tuesday morning.
Everything is fresh and made from scratch — she roasts the chickens, peels and chops the vegetables, cooks the locally grown pumpkins, and hand strains the calamansi, etc. Twelve-hour days are normal, even with one full-time worker and a part-timer — they are the “elves” she often mentions on social media when they groan that a pie is too labor intensive. Her sons Jarrett and Riley Masunaga help at the farmers markets or provide computer assistance as much as they can.
Her prices range from $9 to $11 for a 5-inch deep-dish pie that weighs about a pound once baked. Should that price seem high, Masunaga points out the expensive ingredients, like a high-butterfat cream she orders from the Big Island, and all the hands-on labor involved.
“It’s a lot of food in there; most customers won’t be able to finish it.”
By request and during the holidays, she can make a regular 9-inch pie for $28 to $35. With Thanksgiving approaching, expect the usual pumpkin, as well as sweet potato, apple-cranberry and French apple with a rum custard topping.
In recent months, she’s branched out to making mochi — “I’m channeling my dad”— with fillings as tempting as chocolate Chantilly crunch, strawberries stuffed with ganache, and lilikoi butter with fresh blueberries. But she only has time to make them once a month.
Customers should call ahead with their orders, and savory pies require at least an hour’s notice so she can bake them fresh.
“Pies that sit around are not as good. When it’s fresh out of the oven, it’s amazing!”
979 Robello Lane
>> Phone: 282-0234
>> Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays; call for weekend hours
>> Prices: $9 to $11
>> Parking: Small lot in front
>> Website: sweetrevengehonolulu.com (check for the farmers market schedule)
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