Pasong’s plates family tradition and history in the heart of Old Town Saginaw

By Josie Norris, editor-in-chief. 

Pasong’s plates family tradition and history in the heart of Old Town Saginaw
SAGINAW– It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday and the kitchen of Pasong’s in Old Town Saginaw is in a flurry. Owner and cook Tina Saycosie leads a crew of “kitchen warriors,” as she calls them, which includes three generations of the Saycosie family as Bob Marley wails from the speakers as they prepare for a busy evening.

Back in the kitchen, it’s a family effort as matriarch, Pasong Saycosie-King, cuts raw chicken in to pieces while Saycosie flies around the kitchen stirring and tasting dishes while her other daughter Nonnie Saycosie-Blondin takes care of patrons with her own daughter Dejah. Everyone is doing their part to bring Saycosie-King’s food to the guests that will soon fill the dining room.

The dining room is quiet, just waiting for customers to come in and eat. An array of art hangs on the wall, brightly colored paint splashed onto a canvas and framed black and while photographs hang on the wall and illuminated by lights strung from the ceiling, adding a cozy ambiance.

At this Old Town Saginaw eatery, the kitchen pace is frantic, but the food is slow. Pasong’s is described as a “slow food restaurant” as all the dishes are made from scratch and made-to-order. Ingredients are purchased as locally as possible and dishes are made without MSG.

“I try to cook the way I want to eat. I just want the first bite to be so soothing and so delicious and (just) rock my world,” says Saycosie.

Saycosie describes her mom’s food, the inspiration for the menu, as simply “good food, man. Make you feel good all the way through. Food that’s good for the soul.”

“It’s all about her food for me. It’s the one thing that satisfies all the senses and that’s really special.”

Family is at the heart of the restaurant as well as the history.

“My mom’s story is epic. Our story is epic,” Saycosie explains.

Saycosie was 4 when her mother Pasong was eight months pregnant with her sister Nonnie and father Somsack escaped from a war torn Laos in 1979 and immigrated to the United States. The family arrived in Saginaw through the Christian Missionary Alliance. Two years later, Somsack passed away.

Pasong opened a small Asian market in honor of her late husband and began cooking for people. In 1985, Pasong opened a restaurant and then moved to the first floor of the Saginaw County Health Department. In 1997 she relocated to the restaurant’s current location at 114 N. Michigan Avenue in Saginaw.

Pasong retired in 2007 and her daughters Tina Saycosie and Nonnie Saycosie-Blondin continued the family business and continue sharing their mother’s food with people.

Now, Saycosie-Blondin is studying to be a teacher and Saycoie has become the sole owner and cook. As a small business owner, everyday is different and Saycosie is “loving every minute of it.”

Saycosie has a deep respect and for her mother and the hardships the family went through. Her mother’s story is the reason Saycosie continues the family business.

“It feels like a call of duty. It feels like the right thing,” Saycosie said.

Saycosie grew up in the kitchen of mother’s restaurant and recalls that she sometimes bemoaned why they had a restaurant rather than a bowling alley or a nail salon “like other Asians” Saycosie said with a laugh.

As Saycosie started cooking at the family restaurant, her biggest inspirations for her cooking are her mother and her younger sister Nonnie. Nonnie was the family cook, as their mother would work long hours. Her sister’s passion for eating and creating inspire Saycosie.

Popular menu items include Pasong’s Spring Roll, pad thai, pho, egg drop soup, and Thai noodle chicken salad.

The menu has several vegetarian and vegan items. Beyond that, the kitchen can accommodate special diet needs. It’s a special challenge for Saycosie but she loves it.

Saycosie strives for Pasong’s “be a place that people can appreciate the exchange of their hard earned money for our hard earned work.”

The location of Pasong’s is special to Saycosie, she grew up hanging out in Old Town Saginaw. Today, Old Town is home to a handful of restaurants and other businesses popping up in the last few years Saycosie has been waiting a long time for the revitalization and is thrilled to be a part of it.

“There’s something about the old part of town. There’s a lot of heart and soul… This place has it,” Saycosie said.

Human connection and the love of food keep a restaurant like Pasong’s going.

“I know math is like the universal language but food is the connectedness to all of us,” Saycosie said.

Lacy and Brandon Johnson of Bay City are connected by Pasong’s food. The couple came on a Saturday evening with a group of friends to celebrate their recent birthdays.

“It’s one of our favorites spots in town. They have the best pho in the county,” says Lacy Johnson.

Lacy’s favorite is the pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup made with broth, rice noodles, herbs, and either beef or chicken; but Brandon often goes for the lo mien.

The Johnsons know to come early in the evening for their Pasong’s fix as “wild” later in the night as Brandon explained.

The restaurant holds many memories for Lacy. She was asked to be a bridesmaid and a friend told her that she was pregnant. “It’s our own little home spot,” she said with a smile.

Customers like the Johnsons gives meaning to Saycosie’s work.

“I’m a part of something (where) I get to see people I wouldn’t normally see all the time. People that I care for and adore that come in once a week or everyday,” Saycosie said.

Going forward, Saycosie has desire to hold regular cooking classes in the near future to share her love of cooking with people. No set plans have been made but classes will be happening “soon” according to Saycosie.

“It’s a whole new year. Great things are coming because they have to,” said Saycosie.

But in the meantime, Saycosie says she just  “want(s) to feed you!”

As Saycosie prepares for the long evening of serving people her mother’s recipes she says, “this place here keeps me grounded, as I am a part of this community that has taken my family in so many years ago and supported us. I feel like my work isn’t done and (I haven’t) even come close.”

Pasong’s is located at 114 N. Michigan Avenue in Saginaw and open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and  5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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