From Empanadas to Accolades
Maria Empanada was founded by Lorena Cantarovici who came to Denver from Argentina with only $300 in her pocket and the determination to make a better life for herself. She started selling empanadas from her garage, mostly to friends and family. Five years and three locations later (and two on the way), her efforts have paid off: Lorena has won numerous accolades including the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2017 “Small Business Person of the Year” award for the State of Colorado; Nation’s Restaurant News named Maria Empanada as one of “8 Breakout Brands of 2018” from across the U.S.; Zagat rated the restaurant chain as “One of the 12 Hottest New Bakeries in America;” it won a Top 50 Colorado Companies to Watch award; and it has been featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” as well as in a multitude of local, national and international publications. And as if that wasn’t enough, Lorena has just been named as one of the first international judges to the National Pizza and Empanada Competition in Argentina –the Mecca of empanada culture in the world.
Shamrock truly made me feel as if they were partners in my success and this has translated in so many other areas of the business.”Lorena Cantarovici
Those are impressive accomplishments for a woman whose childhood was nothing but humble. Cantarovici spent her childhood in Argentina. Her single mom taught her to always be fearless; and her grandmother who passed on generations-worth of empanada recipes taught her how to make her beloved family treasures. Lorena’s favorite childhood memories are from those Saturdays and Sundays spent with the entire family helping prepare the dough and fillings, assembling and finally frying or baking them. In all, the batch of empanadas took approximately 5 hours, giving Lorena, her mom and grandmother quality time together.
As a child Cantarovici enjoyed the empanada folding most of all. It is an art form that requires new Maria Empanada artisans a good three weeks to master –per type of empanada. And in an age when the empanada-making process worldwide has become industrialized, Lorena refuses to allow machines to complete the delicate task of folding. That is one of the reasons she is considered the Ambassador of the Argentinian empanada in the U.S. and why a local restaurant recently called Maria Empanada “the promised land of empanadas.”
“We keep the craft alive in that the last touch of an empanada is always made by a human hand, and each flavor features a unique closure,” Cantarovici said.
Each empanada itself is a work of love. Cantarovici’s favorite is The Argentina, with a savory filling of seared steak that is sliced by hand, red bell pepper, onions and spices.
Cantarovici searched high and low for three years for the right kind of beef cuts for the company’s signature empanada. She finally found it through Shamrock Foods.
“I am very particular with the beef – I know what kind of flavor and mouthfeel I want how it’s supposed to taste– and it was very hard to find the meat that I wanted for the Argentina empanada. Shamrock worked with us, and we designed a custom blend and cut that delivered exactly what I wanted. I was not expecting them to go that extra mile, but they did. Shamrock truly made me feel as if they were partners in my success and this has translated in so many other areas of the business” Cantarovici said.
Today, more than 90 percent of her products come from Shamrock Foods. And she continues to grow the business as a student of the Shamrock Foods business team, who believed in her talent and concept, and have served as mentors in growth.
“We have a culture at Maria Empanada that we call ‘Buena Onda.’ It means ‘good vibes or ‘positive interaction’ and it permeates our entire organization. It dictates how we deal with our customers and with each other. We see this in the culture at Shamrock as well. We felt it from the beginning – starting with our rep and we felt it throughout the company – this was very important to me.”
Cantarovici’s goal is to create a simple and elegant business with a culture that focuses on the details that make the business unique; elements she’s committed to maintaining as she scales the business. What began with making empanadas in the garage has now grown to three successful locations, a new central kitchen and 2 more locations being constructed.
“I am thrilled and blessed! My wish is for everyone to eat empanadas with a fantastic glass of Malbec, and then they’ll know what all the excitement is about.” said Cantarovici.
The industry certainly sees what she’s saying –the accolades keep coming in—and so do we at Shamrock. We’ll be there with her, all the way.
To learn more about Maria Empanada, make plans to visit an establishment near you, visit mariaempanada.com.
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