Lorena Cantarovici is introducing a taste of Latin America to the metro area one empanada at a time. Her third Maria Empanada store, located at the Stanley Marketplace, opened this past August. She says the 350-square-foot space was one of the “last spots available” and the smaller size was exactly what they needed.
When Cantarovici came to Denver from Argentina, she found she was dying for an empanada like those made by her mother and grandmother. She decided “if it’s not here, we will make it.” Part of the pleasure of owning her business is introducing empanadas to new customers. Hand-crafted empanadas, as opposed to mass-produced alternatives, are “a dying art,” she explains.
The Stanley Marketplace reminds Cantarovici of the gallerias in Argentina where customers can find many vendors under one roof. Able to identify with the concept, she felt it was a perfect venue for her business. Cantarovici, the mother of two boys, is especially pleased with the number of families and children that visit the Stanley. “My heart is happy that there are lots of kids asking for empanadas there.” She says it “makes her day” when children become return customers. “Kids are our best critics and our best customers.”
In Argentina, empanadas are fast, casual, kid-friendly and reasonably priced. A popular choice for meals on-the-go, empanadas occupy the same food category as pizza for their ease and convenience and are available in a variety of flavors, including breakfast empanadas on the weekends at the Stanley.
Maria Empanada is embarking on collaborations with Stanley businesses, Cheluna Brewing Co. and Infinite Monkey Theorem. Creating empanada pairings to go with beer and wine selections keeps the creative juices flowing and challenges Cantarovici and her staff to come up with new, innovative recipes.
A recent recipient of a $3.5 million investment from the Colorado Impact Fund (CIF), a Denver-based venture capital firm, Maria Empanada will use the funds to expand their brand by upgrading kitchen equipment, opening new locations, and hiring and training new employees. Expansion without compromising the quality of her product is of paramount importance. Cantarovici, who was named in 2017 as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Colorado Small Business Person of the Year, is committed to the ideals that motivated her to begin her business with only $4,000 to invest.
Customers may pre-order empanadas for parties and gatherings. Orders of 100 empanadas or more should be made at least 48 hours in advance. For more information, visit www.mariaempanada.com or call 720.484.5927. The Stanley location is open Tuesday–Friday, 11am–8pm, Saturday, 9am–9pm and Sunday, 9am–5pm. The shop is closed on Mondays.