Chef Jess Sagun opened Winna's Kitchen in 2021 and prepares fresh farm-to-table breakfast and lunch. Winna's also offers dinner on Friday and Saturday nights with a pre-fixed 5 course meal with seatings at 6:00pm and 7:oopm. Her desire is for everyone to feel like family and know they are always welcome.
About Jess Sagun
A salad changed her life.
Jess Sagun was 10 when she discovered the power of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables harvested at her grandparents’ garden. At that moment, thoughts tossed inside her, and she knew making fabulous food would be a focal point in her life.
Now 52, the co-owner and executive chef of Winna’s Kitchen uses memories and lessons from her past as a foundation for wholesome meals made with love and fresh, quality, organic ingredients.
“If we cannot prepare it fresh, it will not be on the menu,” said Sagun, a former worship minister married to a preacher. “There is a lot of care that goes into preparing our food. We are not mass producing anything in this restaurant. We are making small batches that are crafted daily. We offer a unique flavor profile on most of our food because of the wide assortment of herbs we use."
Tucked downtown at 819 Main St. in Myrtle Beach, Winna’s is winning over visitors and locals with scrumptious meals.
“The food is good,’’ said Mackenzie Schmidt, a Michigan medical student, after finishing a cast iron omelet with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and parmesan. “I have never had an omelet in a cast-iron skillet before. It was unique.”
Winna’s is where the soul of country cooking manifests into elegant dishes defined by revelatory tastes in each bite. It is an elevated pancake house that married Martha Stewart’s classic brunch and birthed Southern-inspired cuisine and sassy Sagun originals.
Buttery croissants soak in rich vanilla custard before they are baked and brûléed for a chef special called All The Queen’s Men. Farm fresh eggs play nice with spiced tomato sauce, crowned by feta, and friended with sourdough toast for an epicurean adventure called Get Shook. The yumminess goes on and on, and it is impressive.
Raised partly by her grandparents, this Cheraw native and longtime Myrtle Beach resident grew up with elders feeding her what they grew. They also gave her countless opportunities to experience seeing plants go from plots of soil to stove tops and finally onto plates featuring delicious dishes.
“My grandparents were very forward-thinking – almost rebels in their time,” Sagun said. “They were doing farm-to-table long before it was cool.”
Her paternal grandparents – W.C. and Suzie Hageman – and maternal grandparents – L.B. and Millie Boan – were forces that forged paths for Sagun to find her way to a career based on food.
They lived up the road from each other in Cheraw, and Sagun spent copious amounts of time with them.
W.C. Hageman was perhaps her biggest culinary cheerleader. In his heart, he believed his granddaughter could do no wrong to vittles.
“No matter what came out of that kitchen, my grandfather acted like it was the best thing that had ever been cooked. It could have been burned on eight sides, and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is wonderful!’ He was very complimentary.”
His stellar reviews, including his praise of her ability to make fresh salads sing with ingredients from the garden, built her confidence as a kid cook. He also taught her how to see the beauty in vegetables others took for granted.
“He grew kale, and people were planting it along the sidewalk,’’ said Sagun, who has also worked in fine dining restaurants. “He was like, ‘That’s eating food, not decorating food.’’’
Her maternal grandparents were just as finicky about all things food.
“My grandma was always a country cook,’’ she said of Millie Boan. “She could always throw down with some fatback and grease. On Friday nights, we would always have fried fish. We would go to the market with my grandma to pick up the flounder. Yet, we weren’t allowed to help her cook it.”
On Saturdays, they would eat steak – rib-eyes, and then filet mignon starting when she was 12 – a treat blessed to them by her maternal grandfather, L.B. Boan.
“We thought we were something,’’ she said. “Let me tell you. My grandad was always big on quality. He made sure he had quality food.”
Sagun stayed engaged in gardening during her youth, where she learned the value of good food and hard work.
She would shell butter beans and snap peas until she was sick, as in sick and tired.
“I hated it,’’ said Sagun, whose first job at 15 was prepping the salad bar at Pizza Inn. “Shelling butterbeans and snapping peas wore my fingers out.”
When she was in her teens, her maternal grandfather had a massive heart attack. He almost died, radically changing how her grandmother cooked for their family.
No more fatback grease could be found. The amounts of salt used in dishes were exponentially reduced. Nevertheless, Millie Boan knew her husband refused food not finessed and tempting to the tongue. So, she resorted to using copious amounts of fresh herbs and stocks instead.
The memories made her smile gently and chuckle while sitting on a stool inside Winna’s, a down-home eatery with an ambiance that makes you feel like family as soon as you walk through the door.
A message that reads “Have Fun Eat Well Do Good’’ is against a back wall near the bar area. Paintings in muted hues of yellow, brown, green, blue, and sherbet orange hang on baby blue walls. A mixture of booths and tables allows for quaint and cozy fellowships in this mellow space.
Even novice eyes can tell Sagun is intentional about every facet of Winna’s – a name derived by combining her mother’s name, Linda, with Winnie, as in Winnie the Pooh, a character her mother loved.
Sagun has successfully created an environment that matches her spirit and resolves.
“She is sweet,’’ said her 10-year-old grandson, Micah Muller, who sometimes hangs out at Winna’s with his siblings. “She also works very hard too. She likes people. She loves people. She likes hugs.’’
Yes indeed. Sagun wants everyone to feel like family here and know they are always welcome at Winna’s, no matter their status in life.
She feeds the hungry when they venture into her restaurant. Each customer can donate $5 Sagun uses to provide meals to impoverished people.
On the menu, which is seasonal, Sagun has Matthew 25:40 printed. In that Bible verse, Jesus told his followers to love one another and care for those in need.
“Jesus is the most important person in her life, and she always wants to do the best by anyone around her,'' said Kinsey Muller, 32, Sagun’s daughter who is the co-owner and sous chef.
For Sagun, one way of showing love for the Myrtle Beach community was investing in it when she launched her business in September 2021.
Like others before her, she made a socio-economic investment by providing people with services and others with jobs.
Sagun is doing her part plate by plate, and the results please palates.
By Johanna Wilson Jones, Local Food Writer and Judge on Chef Swap at The Beach
“My grandparents were very forward-thinking – almost rebels in their time. They were doing farm to table long before it was cool.”
Breakfast Chef Swap | Jamie vs. Jess
Chef Amanda kicks things off with a bang as she swaps Chef Jamie Daskalis of high-volume breakfast spot, Johnny D's, with Chef Jess Sagun of eclectic downtown bistro, Winna's Kitchen for a head-to-head Breakfast Chef Swap Challenge. Find out who will take home the inaugural Chef Swap Knife!