Lorena Cantarovici didn't have much money in the bank and didn't speak much English when she started making empanadas in 2010. She also didn't have any experience as a professional chef. But she had sensory memories of cooking empanadas with her grandmother and mother in Argentina, and a desire to bring the Latin American delicacy to her new home in Denver.
After leaving a career in finance and accounting in Mexico and her native Argentina, Cantarovici started selling empanadas from her garage, mostly to friends and family, and then opened Maria Empanada in a small space in Lakewood. Now the shop has a prominent place on South Broadway in Denver, as well as a second location in the Denver Tech Center and, soon, a third at Stanley Marketplace. She also has a new honor: Small Businessperson of the Year in Colorado from the federal Small Business Administration. Cantarovici went to Washington, D.C., recently to collect the award, which indicates Maria Empanada has seen sales and profit growth for several years running.
Cantarovici talked with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about her success, her experience as an immigrant and entrepreneur, and her plans for a nationwide "empanada invasion." She also explained how the espresso machine at Maria Empanada's location on Broadway got to be blessed by Pope Benedict.