With over 20 years of experience, Seneti Pauni from Pauni Island Grill is opening her first restaurant location in Logan. Pauni started her catering business in a small canopy during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Located at 20 W. 400 North, Pauni Island Grill started serving up authentic Polynesian cuisine earlier this month. Pauni, whose family helps her run the business, currently operates two other food trucks along with her catering and Polynesian entertainment business.
“People would always tell me, ‘Your food is so good. Where’s your restaurant located?’ and now I can finally tell them,” Pauni said.
Pauni said she started the catering business as a hobby but when her husband died in 2004, she suddenly became the primary provider for her nine children.
“My children helped me take over my husband’s lawncare business while building the catering business,” Pauni said. “I’m so thankful for all that my family has done to help this business thrive to the point it is at today.”
Jasmine Powell, Pauni’s niece, works at the new restaurant location with Pauni’s daughter-in-law, Alissa Pauni, and another of Pauni’s daughers.
“You just feel valued as an employee here,” Alissa said. “We all know each other and there’s more patience because it’s family first.”
Alissa said that working for Pauni has allowed family members to help each other as a team effort while each family member is working on their own careers.
“Everyone’s talents have been utilized,” Alissa said. “Seneti’s oldest son is a graphic designer and made the logo and menus for the restaurant.”
Pauni said she doesn’t take her children for granted and that she is grateful for their help growing the business.
“My kids tell me they’ll always be there for me,” Pauni said.
Pauni said that opening a new restaurant has been a sudden shift in her life because her son told her of the location, most recently a Sushi Burrito, earlier this year and everything happened quickly.
“The owner of the building told us that he thinks Polynesian food will be successful because it’s something that’s new and different,” Pauni said.
However, Pauni said that it has taken a few years for the community to get used to the menu and for her to introduce an authentic Polynesian taste to the customers.
“Many come up and say, ‘What’s that green stuff in the Lu Pula?’ and I tell them that it’s spinach with corn beef and coconut milk,” Pauni said. “Then they say, ‘Oh, gross, I don’t like spinach,’ but I tell them that they’ll like mine and I put some on a fork for them to try and they love it.”
Pauni said she has been able to grow with the community. In 2006, ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition chose Pauni’s family as the recipient of a new home, and Pauni said she was grateful that they included a commercial kitchen in the home. From there, in 2008, Pauni purchased her first food truck and began selling at USU football and basketball games. When she purchased a second truck in 2017, Weber State hired her to cater their games, too.
“With this new restaurant, everything will be the same, just a bit more,” Pauni said.
The new restaurant includes a covered patio and there will be a live band on weekends with rotisserie chicken cooking outside during the summer.
“I’m so happy to know the community accepts who we are, accepts our food, Pauni said through tears. “And the community support has touched my heart.”
“This community is my family and it takes me back to 2006 with all the love from everyone,” Pauni said. “I feel safe in this community and I want to give back.”
Pauni Island Grill will still be catering and offering their sweet and sour meatballs, kalua pork and kale moa across the valley. Their food truck will be at Vintage Market Days this week, and their food will be served hot every day at their new location.
“We aren’t here temporarily,” Pauni said. “We are here to stay.”