By Kathryn G. Menu
Surrounded by friends and patrons last Saturday night, Pepalajefa owner Livia Hegner celebrated what will be her first full season on Main Street, Sag Harbor this summer, and toasted to a shop that is continuing to evolve while still keeping its European roots.
Last year Hegner, working with Southampton based private chef Marianne Farrell, an operating partner in the business, opened Pepalajefa in what was once Vincenzo’s Pizza and the Ice Cream Club. Completely renovating the space, Hegner created a kitchen space – visible to Main Street pedestrians able to peer through glass doors – adjacent to a colorful, yet somewhat minimalist café, showcasing cuisine inspired not only by Hegner’s European upbringing but her travels around the world.
Hegner was born in Switzerland, and raised as the child of a diplomat. In addition to travel, Hegner enjoyed a diverse professional life, including work in hotel management, hospitality, arts and culture and the culinary arts before deciding to open a shop of her own after summering in Sag Harbor for several seasons.
“I spent the holiday here for many, many years and then about five or six years ago, an acquaintance suggested I open my own shop,” she said. “In 2011, I was in Sag Harbor and I thought to myself, why not.”
Hegner has been cooking since she was about eight years old, but while the culinary arts were always a passion, an overall dedication to service is evident throughout her professional career.
Hegner is a graduate of the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, a hotel management institute in Switzerland, before working with partner Eric Blass in opening Restaurant J.O.S.E.F., which they sold in 1995.
Hegner, who speaks five languages fluently, has also been inspired through her travels, which took her across the globe, including two years where she lived in Thailand and Vietnam.
The dream of having her own gourmet food shop was always in the back of her mind, and in 2011, after meeting Farrell, a partnership and friendship was formed.
Farrell, who lives both in Southampton and Sonoma, California, opened her first gourmet restaurant, bakery and catering business in Rhode Island in 1986, going on to open two more businesses before working in Aspen and San Francisco, remaining in the culinary arts.
In 2003, Farrell opened Jimmy Farrell’s Steakhouse in Westhampton Beach and before teaming up with Hegner focused professionally on being a private chef.
The cuisine at Pepalajefa is largely focused on family recipes and dishes inspired by Hegner’s travels, made with Farrell’s experience.
“I think we are quite complimentary to each other,” said Hegner. “We both bring different qualities and abilities to this business. It’s been a good partnership.”
The menu at Pepalajefa for 2013 is still in the final design stage, said Hegner, but will feature items like a Thai glass noodle salad – a new addition – as well as favorites from last season like its eggplant caponata, curry chicken salad, Moroccan chicken legs and beef Bourguignon.
Going into her first full season, Hegner said she is more comfortable than she was entering her inaugural season in 2012.
“I feel I have more of an idea of what lies ahead and in a very positive way am curious for how the shop will evolve,” she said. “I learn something every day and that is the great thing about this adventure I am on.”
Pepalajefa is located at 7 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, visit pepalajefa.com or call 899-4630.