A man of great kneads
One of the best things about Sacramento is its collective institutional memory of what used to be. Ask any long-time resident about the old days and you’ll likely hear about the old Alhambra Theater or Edmonds Field. The loss of those magical places has arguably galvanized modern Sacramentans to hold on to the institutions that are left. One such place is the Pasty Shack at 4746 J St. The Harris family opened the Pasty Shack in 1948 on 25th Street between J and K. After several ownership changes and relocations, Bill Mier bought the place in 1993. Mier, a fourth-generation Sacramentan who grew up only blocks from the Pasty Shack’s current East Sacramento storefront, is now the Sacramento standard bearer of the pasty—a delicious blend of meat, potatoes, veggies and spices folded into a pastry crust. Just remember when you’re ordering one to pronounce it pas-TEE, not PA-stee.
Do you have to correct people who call pasties (pas-TEEs) pasties (PA-stees)?
When the Club 400 was popular—it’s now the Blue Lamp, but it used to be a burlesque place—somebody would say “do you have any PA-stees?” We’d say no but about 10 blocks down you’ll find some. Naturally, you’d embarrass them. Particularly, with the older women, we’d say that and my wife would say to me, “don’t say that to them.”
Where did the pasty come from?
The origin of it is from Cornwall, England. It’s what the miners would take to work along with their coffee and they’d go down these mineshafts. The pasty was whatever was left over in their refrigerator put into pie dough. The people who brought the pasty to the United States from Cornwall were called Jacks and Jinnys. They settled predominately in upper Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and locally the closest was the Grass Valley/Nevada City area.
What’s the process of making a pasty?
We have to create our dough, which is made by a piece of equipment, and the rest of it is all rolled by hand. We make as many as 200 a day. We do all The Streets of London’s pasties, Bonn Lair’s, Socal’s—all the brewpubs.
There seems to be many businesses that have been around for a long time in East Sacramento—like Corti Brothers, Español, Merlino’s, the Pasty Shack—relative to the rest of Sacramento. Why do you think that is? Do you all interact?
So many times generations seem to hand down that business—that’s true for Español and Corti’s. Fortunately, they were able to survive all the economy problems. I think in Merlino’s case I think capitalization just ate them up on their manufacturing, but they’re back around. There’s a lot of wealth in this section of Sacramento, but of course, there are businesses that have gone down also due to poor management or the economy or whatever.
Do you get customers who tell you they used to eat here in 1955?
Constantly. Particularly people that are retired from the Department of Motor Vehicles—that’s our biggest customer. We still deliver to them but we get people who say, “we used to order these back when you were on 25th Street in 1952.” And these were also available at one time at the California State Fair.
It seems like you don’t have any competition. Does anybody else sell pasties in this area?
The nearest recognized pasty shop is in Half Moon Bay … or, wait … I take that back, because Nevada City/Grass Valley actually had about eight pasty shops at one time and I believe they have about four now. That was just a real predominant area because it’s all mining. If you went to Butte, Montana, you’d see 50 or 80 of these shops. That is the pasty capital of the world.
Have you ever gone there?
I have not. And nor have I been to England. Of course, I’m from Irish and German descent so my mother is probably spinning in her grave.
Do you have kids that you might pass the business to one day?
My oldest is 38 and my youngest is 27 and an architecture major in San Francisco. It’s a labor-intensive business. Fortunately, they’ve thought of more intelligent ways to make money.
But there is a historically significant aspect to this business. Especially in this area in the city. That would be a shame if it ended with you.
I tell my wife I’ll stay with it until my grave, and then she can do what she wants with it. But besides unforeseen hazardous situations, the Pasty Shack will be here for a long time.