By Tyrone Townsend
Lorena Cantarovici took a chance and moved from Argentina to Denver for better opportunities, not knowing that empanadas were the secrets to her success. Now, Lorena owns Maria Empanada—with five locations in Denver—the nation’s leading artisanal empanada restaurant serving Argentine empanadas, tartas, and specialty desserts. More than 50 employees make 80,000 tasty empanadas a month.
Before Lorena started her leading empanada restaurant, she began baking small orders of empanadas for parties. Before she knew it, a caterer approached her for a large order, leading her to shift her operation from a kitchen to a garage. Lorena’s unexpected catering orders blossomed into a business, and Maria Empanada was born.
Empanadas are more than a delicious cuisine from Lorena’s home country, Argentina. The empanadas represent memories of home. She and her mother, Maria—hence the name Maria Empanada—would prepare empanadas for numerous family gatherings, which brought laughter, joy, and unity. Lorena wanted to replicate those feelings for people in the United States and share those memories with everyone. But a lot had to be done before her empanada business originated in her garage.
Lorena was an accountant without any knowledge of owning a restaurant, and she did not speak English. The resources to proceed with her dream were nonexistent. There was no special dough for the empanadas, no customers, and no money.
It seemed as if the dream would stay stuck in the realm of fantasy. Lorena returned back to Argentina to learn how to cook empanadas. She took notes from her mother and the few shops scattered around the country. She returned back with recipes, techniques, and special secrets. Lorena’s dream then turned into a reality, and she is setting an example for Hispanic women.
The United States has nearly 29 million small businesses, which truly are the engines of our nation’s economy. And according to the latest research from the National Women’s Business Council, nearly 1.5 million of them are owned by Hispanic women. Research also shows Latinas are especially successful as entrepreneurs. According to the last report published by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, women own 36 percent of all businesses. Among Hispanic-owned businesses, that share rises to 44 percent. On average, Latina-owned businesses that employ workers create an average of seven jobs and have $766,000 in annual sales.
Lorena is an excellent example of Latina entrepreneurship and also a symbol of the many ways the SBA supports entrepreneurs as they are starting and growing their businesses. Lorena attended a workshop run by an SBA Denver Small Business Development Center that assisted her in developing her business plan.
She received counseling from knowledgeable volunteer mentors on accounting, marketing, legal issues, and risk management. As Maria Empanada’s volume continued to soar, she utilized an SBA microloan lender Colorado Enterprise Fund and obtained a $63,000 microloan and moved Maria Empanada to a larger location in an enterprise zone in the South Broadway area of Denver.
For Lorena, it all began in a makeshift kitchen in a garage. Now, the entrepreneur and her beloved Maria Empanada have won numerous local, national, and international accolades. Lorena’s desire for growth spreads to business, leading it in only one direction—up.