An Empanada Carny Roadshow: Meet The People Behind Viva Empanada

Brion: Anywhere else besides Rittenhouse?
Travis: We’re doing the Bryn Mawr farmers’ market tomorrow (on Saturdays) [I spoke with them on Dec 4th] and we’ve also done the Dickinson Square farmers’ market and Passyunk Square. Farm To City is the group that we’re working with.
Brion: What else do you have in mind?
Travis: We just want to stay mobile.
Chivonn: We’re going to be doing a lot of night markets with The Food Trust and we’ve talked about eventually freezing them and selling them to local stores and going to different…
Travis: Coffee shops and delivering them in the morning, ones that are premade. Like sausage, egg, and cheese, here ya go for your coffee shop.
Chivonn: We have within our own personal Rolodex a lot of people who have either been helping us at free or a cost. People from the beer garden that we met helped to design our logo and do a lot of graphic design work for us, all kind of pro bono. Different friends are trying to help us locate real estate. They’re all supporting us in our dream of being independent business owners.

Brion: What makes the empanadas different?
Chivonn: They’re fucking amazing!
Travis: It’s true. Ok, so we don’t know the first thing about making empanadas.
Brion: Full disclosure.
Travis: Literally. At the beer garden, the guys were just using a fork to crimp them, which was fine. But they weren’t sexy. That’s why we fold them the way we do. I didn’t know how to fold fucking empanadas. I was watching Youtube videos the first day we were open. I was like, I don’t know what the fuck this is.
Chivonn: [Laughing]

Brion: So you basically got the idea from doing dumplings? Basically, why don’t I try empanadas instead—it’s all dough stuffed with something…
Travis: I had done dumplings. I liked the concept. I knew it had to be some kind of dough with shit in it fried. Something to that extent. That’s even our tagline. People will be walking by, we’ll be like:
Travis and Chivonn: Fried shit!
Chivonn: [laughing]
Travis: It usually gets people to turn around.

Oh, I like fried shit.

Travis: So when we wrote the menu for the 9th & Wharton beer garden, we put the 9th St. Empanada on there. Pulled pork, broccoli rabe, long hots, provolone. It was an Italian long hot sandwich—just in an empanada. They were just crimping the dough and literally, the day we’re opening, we’re sitting there trying to figure out how to fold these fucking things and it just—I got lucky. It clicked and I was like, ahhh, that’s it. We got this.

And it’s great. People come up to us saying things like, oh, you must have been doing that for years! [laughing]

A Quote 5Chivonn: It’s so funny because he’s usually the one rolling them and we’re trying to expand, so rules have to change to where I have to figure out how to roll them. I was doing it at one market and it was really really frustrating and he said one thing to me—roll up—and it was like, ooohhhh. Once you get it down, it feels right. With practice, I’ll get to where he’s at—it’s muscle memory. He’s sitting there talking shit to everybody going by, rolling these fucking empanadas. The true sign of professional—they can do something and look you in the eye.

Brion: Basically, the idea is some things you know—like an Italian sandwich in an empanada or the tandoori chicken one I tried. It’s savory dishes or sandwiches, but in empanadas.
Travis: There’s been a couple of them where they’ve been, you know, shit we’ve thrown together, but it’s typically like the one that was in tandoori but was like a shawarma sandwich—that’s it.
Brion: With the yogurt sauce on the side?
Travis: Yeah. That’s all it takes. Instead of your traditional meat pie empanada. Or your rice and meat empanada. And that’s another thing that separates us. There’s another company out there—Empanada Mama. They’re great. Been around forever. They’ve been making it work. When they do their empanadas, they just crimp ‘em and they have a little convection oven they bring with them. That’s all well and good but we have a deep fryer. That’s definitely what sets us apart. We’re actually not allowed—there’s a farmers’ market we really wanted to get into that goes all year. It’s on Sundays and it’s super busy all year long.
They’re like, Nope.
Why the hell not?!
We don’t want your fried food here.
And I was like, alright, I guess you got me. It’s a farmers’ market. You start selling fried food, hell just froze over. I get it.

Chivonn: It’s more about changing the concept of what’s going into the empanada. Thinking of it as a meal. When we did the braised short ribs with asparagus, blue cheese, caramelized onions, and mashed potatoes, it was a steak dinner and that’s what we were thinking of when creating it. So when you’re picking it up and eating it—I was like, this is a steak dinner. This is amazing! And you’re walking around with it in your hand and you’re getting all those flavor sensations at once. It’s a balance.

Brion: What was the little side of sauce with that one?
Chivonn: That was the béarnaise sauce.
Travis: You know when you get your bacon wrapped filet with béarnaise on it? It’s kind of a béarnaise/hollandaise. So you’re dipping the damn thing in béarnaise. It’s great. We did one at a previous event where we made raspberry cheesecake and took the cheesecake and was just scooping it and putting it in the empanada and deep frying it. Then we shook crumbled graham cracker on top. So your fried empanada has graham cracker crust and you had fucking hot cheesecake on the inside. It’s amazing. We’re working on one for next week: a custard base and we’re going to set that—so that will be like a crème brûlée. Put the custard base in there, deep fry it, then sprinkle sugar on it and hit it with a blow torch. That’s sick.

That’s what’s really cool. The taste is amazing and whenever we—so this lady comes up to us and is like, why don’t you put out samples.
I don’t fucking need to put out samples. So I just stand back there and I eat ‘em.
THIS IS SO GOOD! [Does his best Cookie Monster impersonation]
People walk by and are like, I just gotta have that.
Yeah, ya do.
I’m not gonna put out samples. I’m just gonna eat it in front of you.
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