Nestled in the heart of American Fork, Màstra Italian Bakery and Bistro has been a beloved destination for foodies, focaccia enthusiasts, and Italian cuisine aficionados alike. From its authentic, artisanal bread to its mouthwatering bistro fare, our April Business of the Month has captured the hearts and taste buds of locals and visitors alike. To learn more about the story behind this celebrated bakery and bistro, we e-sat down with its owner, Jonathan Cagnucci. In our conversation, he shared insights on the passion and craftsmanship that goes into every Màstra creation, his philosophy on cooking, and what's next for the bakery and bistro.
UMLF: Hi Jonathan! We’re excited to interview you as our Business of the Month. Tell us about yourself.
Jonathan: “My name is Jonathan I'm the founder and owner of Màstra Italian Bakery Bistro. I'm married to Stefania, and we have together two daughters, Nicole, and Elena.
I grew up in Genova Italy, developing a spontaneous interest for food, history and serving others. In 2001 at the age of 17 I started working at Panificio Mario, a historical bakery in downtown Genova, where I found my own dimension between traditional food and timeless baking techniques. In 2015 after I graduated in Italy as a Master Baker Instructor, I decided to start my own restaurant in Utah, to achieve my dream to serve the community by sharing quality Italian food and the beauty of Italian tradition.”
UMLF: For those who haven’t dined at Màstra yet, what can they expect from their experience?
Jonathan: “Màstra Italian bakery bistro comes from the idea of offering to the community real great food made from scratch and an amazing value for the money Italian experience.
At Màstra there is a family atmosphere and the food in our menu is not sophisticated but it's made to taste just authentic and amazing. The interiors are not luxurious, they look clean and bright and celebrate the art of artisan food making. At Màstra you won't find fancy servers but our welcoming staff making sure that you have a great experience. Everything at Màstra is designed so you can be nourished by the flavors, the warmth and atmosphere of Italy spending an unbeatable money for value price.”
UMLF: One of the menu options that immediately jumps out as a fan favorite in your reviews is your focaccia! What goes into making this must-try bread?
Jonathan: “Focaccia Genovese means a lot to me. It's an important piece of my life and heritage. The Focaccia itself (fugassa in Genovese) derives from the Latin word focus, which means baked in a fireplace. The Focaccia Genovese was born in the harbor city of Genova in the Middle Ages, and it remains remarkably popular today. Bakeries across the city still bake focaccia all night through the morning, and almost everyone buys a slice daily. In Genova, focaccia is not just food, it’s a secular ritual.
At the end of ‘500 in Genova, focaccia was so popular it was enjoyed with wine and other treats as part of wedding celebrations. Legend has it that since these celebrations occurred in church, focaccia eventually became a popular appetizer during funerals too. This tradition was quickly put to an end by the local Bishop Matteo Gambaro. He threatened to “excommunicate anyone, aristocrats or plebeians” as fugassa was deemed too joyous for such somber occasions.
This portable, delicious flatbread is the beloved food of travelers, workers, and students even today in our times. For Màstra It's a true privilege to exclusively offer this delightful bread and charming tradition to the community here in Utah.”
UMLF: The quality of your ingredients seems incredibly important to you, what is your process for sourcing the items that go into your dishes?
Jonathan: “Since 2015, when I moved here, I began selecting as many local affordable quality raw materials as I could, to cook my family recipe for my relatives and friends. Still today I keep asking my friends who are part of the Italian community, if by chance they found any quality ingredient I can use in my kitchen. At Màstra we currently use over 20 ingredients imported from Italy, sourced from 6 different stores. We also use local flours and about 600/month organic basil plants locally grown, to make our fresh Pesto Sauce.”
UMLF: Every business has its highs and lows. Can you tell us about a challenge you faced as an entrepreneur and how you overcame it?
Jonathan: “We first opened the restaurant doors in February 2021. Things started going great for us from the very beginning. Locals were super excited to finally have an authentic Italian restaurant in Utah County and so, pretty soon we began to be pretty popular and appreciated.
A few months later in the October of the same year, my family and I had to go to Rome, for a two-week trip to get our US work Visas at the US Embassy. Well at that time this specific US Embassy was really overloaded with work, due to a shortage of employees from Covid 19, and the enormous amount of refugee Visas they had to issue for the Afghanistan crisis. So, our two weeks trip became a nightmare where my family and I got stuck in Italy, without the option to come back to the US, far away from my young business, our house, school, and lives. During this time, Màstra employees strived so much to keep the service consistent and make the customers happy. And so, after six weeks we all agreed that it would be just impossible to offer a sufficient service with such a reduced staff and lack of management. So, I had to close my young bistro, let go all of my employees, suppliers, connections, customers... everything. Even worse was the fact that I didn't really know if I would ever be able to open the restaurant again.
In February 2022, after 4 months stuck in Italy, without ever hearing once from the Embassy, we finally got contacted about our Visas, and we were able to come back to the US and Utah. As we returned it took me a while to come back to check the restaurant. I was afraid to go see what was left there. After four days I took courage to go check. At this point I found this dusty, empty, quiet dining room. No customers were there, nor employees. No delicious smell nor laughs and cheers. Just desolation and ashes. Restarting again from the ground has been one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. At that point, it was almost impossible to find employees and to reconnect to my original network. I'm a pretty optimistic guy and I rarely cry. Nevertheless, I remember one night, driving back home, after I spent the whole day trying to train these unskilled new guys, I found myself lost in tears. That night for a minute I really thought that I couldn't make it again.
It's been a year since that chapter of my life. Today Màstra is stronger than ever, and business is doing amazing. Looking back, I feel humble and truly grateful for the support that I received from my family, employees, friends, customers, and local food bloggers that helped me to put back together all the pieces, one brick on top of another.”
UMLF: How do you feel like the Utah Microloan Fund has helped your business?
Jonathan: “Utah Microloan has been precious for the rebirth of my business. After 3 months since I reopened, I realized that I needed some new and better equipment to speed up my production and improve efficiency without having super skilled staff available. I needed some funds to fill that gap caused by losing my previous trained employees. UMLF has been a great tool that helped me to relaunch my business, in a short time. Still remember TJ has been so helpful and patient helping me to fill up and submit all the forms and information required for the loan. I also remember the day of my final interview with Brandon. He made me feel he was believing in me as an entrepreneur and in my project. That gave me that extra confidence that I needed in that controversial time of my venture. I'm still really grateful for UMLF for trusting me, believing in my project, and giving me the opportunity to boost my operation taking my kitchen to the next step.”
To plan your visit to Mastras check out:
Address: 476 N 900 W American Fork, UT 84003
Facebook: Mastra Italian Bakery Bistro