Bringing Culture to Colorado with Maria Empanada

In 2000, Lorena Cantarovici left her beloved home of Argentina for the United States. She didn’t know a lick of English and had no money, just a dream of a better life in Colorado.

Upon her arrival Lorena worked in a restaurant, however being surrounded by foreign food made her homesick for Argentinian culture and cuisine. Over time, life in America became easier; she was learning the language and making friends. Lorena developed a community of other Argentinians living in Colorado and as a treat for the groups’ get-togethers Lorena baked empanadas, an Argentinian classic that was noticeably absent from the local cuisine. Her empanadas brought the comfort of home to the new country, and her friends asked her (and offered to pay) for more.

Lorena set up shop in her kitchen, baking dozens of empanadas a week. Before she knew it, friends of friends were calling her up asking for the tasty treats. Dozens of empanadas turned into hundreds of empanadas. She couldn’t keep up with the demand in her tiny workspace, so she moved her kitchen into her garage, and even that wasn’t enough space for her unexpected empanada business.

In 2011 Lorena decided it was time to take her small business to the next level. She rented a space in Lakewood, big enough to accommodate the incoming empanada requests. It was here that Lorena garnered her entrepreneurial spirit.  She tested recipes, baking sequences, and hired her first employee. It was the busiest time of her life, but paying homage to her Argentinian roots inspired her to keep going. After two years in Lakewood, Lorena was faced with a tough decision. She either needed to close up shop, or put all of her cards on the table and pursue her small business dreams.

Lorena took a leap of faith, and in 2013 opened Maria Empanada on South Broadway in Denver. She chose the name as a tribute to her mother, and named various empanadas after her favorite places in Argentina. The menu was expanded to include other Argentinian dishes and espresso, a stable in the country. When you enter the restaurant it feels like you are walking into a café in Buenos Aries. The Buena Onda (positive energy) pulsing through the space entices you to stay for hours and enjoy the Argentinian lifestyle.

Maria Empanada was an overnight success, turning out tens of thousands of empanadas a week, and earning national accolades. When an opportunity arose to open a second location, Lorena knew she had achieved the American Dream. With the help of an SBA 7(a) loan from Citywide Banks, she secured financing to open Maria Empanada in Greenwood Village’s Belleview Promenade in 2016. Soon a third location will be opening in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace, and after that Lorena hopes to take Maria Empanada coast-to-coast.

Lorena's Inspiration:
My greatest inspiration is my country, my roots, and my culture. I arrived in the U.S. with only one backpack, but that backpack was important and had things that reminded me of Argentina, which is now represented in everything throughout my restaurant.