Starting out from the Old Bus Depot, La Empanada has blossomed into Canberra’s go-to locale to taste the flavours of the South American staple. The team of Andre and Andrea have worked to transform everyday flour into a savoury delight coupled with their secret recipe. We spoke to Andre about the business’ speedy growth and how he wants to create an experience out of selling empanadas.
How did the idea of selling empanadas come about?
To be honest, one of the biggest things when Andrea and I came to this country was we realised that in Canberra there wasn’t much South American food at all. And we were [saying to people,] “How do we introduce this; what do we do? “What can we bring to the table?” Then we said, “Hey, let’s sell empanadas!”
From the Old Bus Depot, how long until you started your own shop?
It was last July, so a little over a year. We said, “Okay, we got to look into getting a shop,” because it was growing and it was going well.
What prompted you to open your own shop?
When we first started we sold cold empanadas. So we were saying to people, “Here, heat this up at home and I promise it’ll be good. And customers were buying it. So then gradually customers started saying, “Heat this up now.” That’s when we started heating them up in the market itself.
From the Old Bus Depot, we said, “Hey let’s try other markets.” We’ve done all these [markets] in because of the good feedback we’ve got from customers and the loyal customers that we’ve built over time. The demand was also there for us to say, “Let’s just put up a shop.” So that’s how our shop came about and that’s all within a year’s time. It happened very fast, to be honest.
Do you continue to make all your empanadas from scratch?
Everything. We prepare our own dough because we have our own recipe. Obviously, we also have our own recipe for the fillings themselves. So we do everything.
Could you describe that process?
The very beginning is actually buying the flour itself. So you have to mix the flour and that’s where we use our secret recipe that we got from our relatives and our moms overseas in Ecuador. We actually source the meat itself for all the fillings that we use. We focus on buying things from the markets themselves that we also support and that just helps spread the love if you want to call it that way.
After preparing the filling, we cool them down, fold up the empanada to the shape that we make it into, put it in the oven or deep fry it, and then into the customer’s mouth. And then that’s it!
I noticed that you focus on three flavours: chorizo, spinach and cheese, and beef.
To be honest, when we first started, we trialled many different flavours. But I think these were the ones that the customers demanded the most. They wanted something spicy which the chorizo, which is very typical here in Australia. The spinach and cheese is another classic one. You really can’t go wrong.
For the beef, that’s our competition to the Australian meat pie. We make it with a little bit more love – I think it’s much better. These three options were the ones that we found to be in higher demand. We do make other ones because we do catering as well now.
Were there other flavours that you’re looking at bringing to the markets?
Yeah. From time to time we bring apple and dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is a caramel base. Since it’s South American, it’s very typical of us to use dulce de leche in some of our desserts. It’s kind of like an apple pie more or less but within the empanada which nice so it’s a sweet option. We also have mixed berry cheesecake.
What can we expect from La Empanada in 2018?
What can we expect?! Well, we’re looking forward to actually open up a couple more shops and to make it more of an experience when you go buy an empanada. That’s sort of what we focus on. We don’t want you to just buy and walk away. We want you to go there and have a bit of experience, have a bit of a laugh, question us, practice Spanish. Some customers just come up and have conversations in Spanish. We’re more than happy to teach Spanish. So it’s more of the experience itself rather than just buying the empanadas.
To grab a bite of the empanadas from La Empanada, visit the Old Bus Depot Markets on Sundays at 21 Wentworth Avenue in Kingston or see how they’re made at their ANU pop-up village.
For the latest news about the Sunday Markets in Canberra, like us on Facebook @Oldbusdepotmarkets.