We officially met Sasha Piligian on a phone call. We were catching up with our friend Mailea Wager, founder and chef behind Lou Nashville (and now Paris), who at the time was on a road trip with Sasha in Florida. We were about a year out from opening our first coffee shop in Echo Park, and we didn’t have a plan for our pastry program.
“I know a pastry chef! She’s right here.” The rest is history.
Of course, we’d heard about Sasha prior to this — because we had enjoyed her creations over the years at places like Gjusta and Sqirl. She had since set out on her own, and we’re proud to be her first wholesale pastry customer.
We joined Sasha on one of her recent visits to the Santa Monica farmers market — a trip she makes every week to gather fresh produce and other ingredients for her business. Afterwards, we sat down with her at the cafe for an interview to learn a bit more about her. We hope you enjoy — and if you haven’t had a chance, we hope you get to try out one of her delicious creations at our cafe!
I think that depends on the day. If it’s a work day, it’s get ready as fast as possible and go to work at like 4:30. I have a teeny tiny French press in my commercial kitchen that I make a cup of coffee with — because I need a cup of coffee in the morning. That usually sustains me.
If it’s a not work day, I do the same thing, but at home!
I’m usually up at 4:30, and I’m usually done by Noon or 1:00. I try to do my work as fast as possible so I can leave! Haha… And then, baking for the next day. Sometimes I have cake orders. If I finish early enough, I like to go get a coffee somewhere else. That feels like a nice little treat. Sometimes I take a nap, or go on a long walk and get a coffee. I live close to Little Ripper and like walking there.
It’s nice that I can make my own schedule. I could work at night, for example. But I’m a morning person, so I like waking up early to start the work day.
I like having the full rest of the day to do as I please — though sometimes, the nap can leave me feeling groggy.
I grew up in Inglewood! Went to high school in Mid City, went to college at UC Santa Barbara, where I got an art history degree. I graduated when the recession hit in 2007-2008, and finding work in that industry was pretty tough. After graduating, I worked at galleries as an intern, but as someone new to the workforce during the recession, I was confronted often by layoffs. Eventually I was able to find a stable gig in retail, but I really didn’t enjoy it!
I was in my mid-twenties, working in retail, having a mid-twenties crisis. It was something I had always thought about in the back of my head, when I was a kid. I just made the decision that I was going to try this. I started looking on Craigslist for anyone that would hire me, sending out a resume that had zero restaurant experience.
I finally got a response, from Roxana Jullapat of Friends & Family — at that time, her partner Dan and her had a restaurant called Cook’s County over by 3rd and Fairfax. Roxana hired me as an intern, and I started off doing grunt work. Cut and seed kumquats, measure out recipes, etc… helping out one day a week.
A night-time desert plater position opened up at the restaurant, and I started doing that at night. Once I was in, I started filling in for different roles. A production role opened (making bread, making scones, morning buns, pastries, spinning ice cream, cakes etc.), and I started doing that. That was really my training.
I wasn’t sure at the time if I should go to culinary school or not. I figured getting some work experience would help, regardless.
I worked for Roxana for maybe a year and a half. When they left that restaurant, Roxana helped me find another job, which was at a bakery in Venice that hadn’t yet opened up, called Gjusta.
At Gjusta, I worked initially under Nicole Rucker. I wound up working there almost 2 years, and worked up to becoming the pastry sous chef. From there, I wound up taking over as the head pastry chef at Sqirl, where I also worked for a few years. In 2019 I left to go to Nashville to help my friend Mailea Wager open Lou as pastry chef. And that’s where I was when COVID hit.
At some point, I feel like you start to want to work for yourself. Whether that’s opening your own bakery or restaurant, you want to forge your own path. Mailea was great. She was so supportive of what I wanted to do and was a great partner in helping me on my way. I had already been planning to come back to California to try striking out on my own. I envisioned doing pop-up’s, making my own stuff, doing recipe development consulting. But the pandemic put a damper on that.
I drove back to California from Tennessee and stayed with my aunt in the desert (La Quinta) for a few months during lockdown.
Back in my apartment in LA, I knew I had to figure out how I was making a living. I started getting inquires from people who wanted cakes, and I just started baking for people. I’d do weekly pastry boxes where I’d make 3 things, you’d pay $20 for them, and people would come and pick them up from my house.
My business grew organically from there. At some point I outgrew my apartment — it felt like there was constantly a mess, boxes everywhere. People constantly coming to my house to pick up orders. No separation between home and work.
I found a commissary space in South Central, but needed someone to share the space with me. I had a partner there for 6 months until she left. When I was looking for someone else to fill the space, I started doing wholesale with Canyon Coffee, and I needed the whole space!
These days, wholesale pastries are my primary business. It’s much more consistent and dependable than cakes. I have all the recipes in my head at this point. I also like having my pastries out available to the world somewhere on a daily basis.
I still do cakes when I like. But whereas I used to depend on that for income, now they’re a nice creative outlet that breaks up the repetition of wholesale baking. It’s nice to have that repetition, and I know all the recipes in my head at this point.
I think the part I like is having my hands busy; doing something that’s interactive. I had some office jobs and that wasn’t an environment I Thrived in. It’s a creative outlet. It kind of reconnects my past and interest in art in how I play with flavors and decoration; how I evolve my decoration and the creativity that goes into it.
While it’s a creative outlet, it’s consistent. I know how things will turn out when I bake them correctly.
I also think it’s a really great community. The tentacles that baking and working in a restaurant / the food community is a good community. We can come together really easily; we can raise awareness of things, do fundraisers and talk about causes that are important to me / us.
There’s a lot of overlap in the community. You meet people from wine, the art world, food, farming… it forms this larger community that all feels connected. The world feels small.
Even here, at Canyon. Running into people here and meeting new people, it’s more often than not that we have some mutual connection or even worked an event together in the past.
LA is so big, but it’s very small, too. Once you’re in a certain community, you wind up starting know all the same people.
I grew up here, and sometimes I still run into people that I grew up with. One of my good friends I’ve known since middle school also turned out to be a pastry chef here in town.
When people asked me “What do you want to be when I grow up?” I used to think, I want to be a chef. But it was just in the back of my head. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that it came back, and once I dove in I settled on pastries.
I don’t really have a lineage. My mom wasn’t a baker. But I learned, practice and got better.
If I couldn’t do this anymore, I’m not sure what I would do. Maybe teach it?
Right now, my life has been really consumed between work and taking care of a family member.
So at the moment I’m really just focusing on appreciating the simple things — going on long walks. Reading a book. I go out to eat with friends, a lot. I like to travel as much as I can, when I can.
If you’re too busy just trying to stay afloat, you lose all the things that make you uniquely who you are. Doing the things you like, seeing friends for dinner, making plans six months out to go on a trip. Those are the things that I really look forward to.
A longtime inspiration for me comes from going to the farmers market. It’s become a ritual for me, and is the most consistent source of inspiration.
I was in Jacksonville with my friend Cali, we were at this little place on the way to float down a river. This place had the most amazing Danish that I wish I could recreate. Little things like that inspire me. The unexpected.
Placing myself in new environments, new cities, seeing different architecture. I always come back feeling inspired.
I don’t go to galleries anymore, ever. Or museums. I wish I did! I hope to get back into that routine.
Sometimes I just find inspiration from being quiet. When I’m not thinking — clear my mind.
I’m trying to go to Paris! I’m planning a pop-up with Cali at Mailea’s restaurant.
In Paris, I love just walking the city. The last few times I’ve went were really work-focused, so I’m excited to have a trip there just for fun.
Savoring life’s details through the coffee we drink daily.