Hey Empaná:
Merging Cuisine and Culture

Story by t.e.l.l. New England
Photos by Ashley Herrin

Holding on to your cultural heritage is incredibly important. Our roots, our history and our culture influence and shape us as individuals, and as a larger community. Cultural heritage is evident in the clothes we wear, the religions we follow, and in the foods we eat. Hey Empana is a blossoming small business that revolves around the latter and is influenced in a big way, by their cultural heritage.

Hey Empana was started in 2012 by Sebastian Galvez and Melissa Stefanini. Merging cuisine and culture, Hey Empana brings magic to the dinner table in the form of empanadas filled with traditional Latin American flavors or eclectic twists on some of the dishes we can’t live without (see the ‘Cordon Bleu-ish’).

An empanada is a breaded pastry filled with ingredients that range from traditional savory fillings to delectable sweets. With empanadas and what you choose to use for fillings, there really are no limits. You can use whatever leftovers you may have in the kitchen, which is traditionally how empanadas were made, or you can creatively combine ingredients to make new flavors. For Hey Empana, they enjoy the best of both worlds. The Latin American staple ‘The Chilean,’ stuffed with seasoned beef, caramelized onion, black olive, hard-boiled egg and raisin, pairs perfectly with ‘The Return of the Mac,’ a nod to our blue-box childhoods and stuffed with a gooey three-cheese mac and beef short rib. When selling their empanadas at events, the team typically likes to bring one traditional flavor and one modern flavor to the table. The result is a sold-out batch and a lot of happily stuffed customers.

Hey Empana brought their South American roots to Boston in 2013 when they moved from Los Angeles. But their story starts much earlier. Melissa and Sebastian were both raised in Miami, FL. They attended the same high school, years apart, and as it goes, didn’t actually meet each other until they were out of school. Sebastian owned a skate shop, Melissa stopped in for a visit, and the rest is history.

A move to Los Angeles spiked their entrepreneurial spirit. With Latin American cuisine and empanadas such a central part of their upbringing, Hey Empana was born. And, Los Angeles was the perfect incubator. An overabundance of fresh produce at the farmer’s markets year-round gave them the opportunity to craft and create amazing stuffed treats. And because all of their empanadas are made with only the freshest ingredients, it was the perfect location to jump-start their new business venture.

A new job opportunity and a curiosity to explore a new region sent Hey Empana east to Boston. They have not only built a sense of community around the products they offer with great success, but they have also been welcomed into the Boston community with open arms. Today they operate out of the kitchen of KO Pies, an East Boston staple. Co-owner, Sam Jackson has been incredibly supportive in helping Hey Empana put down roots in the city. And their roots have grown immensely in this new location. Boston is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. For being such a small city (in comparison to New York & Los Angeles), we have some of the most incredible dining opportunities. But one thing we have been deprived of for so long is one of the reasons Hey Empana has been so successful thus far: empanadas…and not just any empanadas; fresh, from-scratch and baked empanadas. Good empanadas.

When I met with Sebastian at the KO kitchen to interview him for this issue, he was in the process of making a fresh batch of empanadas for lunch the following day at an advertising agency in downtown Boston. Overall, it was one of those experiences where you walk away truly appreciative of the quality in the product that you are receiving as a customer. The ingredients were purchased at a local organic food store – and are typically sourced from local markets when they can be…of course, we need to melt a few feet of snow before we see those pop up again. The filling was fine-diced by hand, mixed, baked, seasoned and scooped. The dough, which was pre-made earlier in the day, was rolled out onto the industrial counter, dusted with flour and filled with the vegetable medley. He then folded each empanada and “cut” them out of the dough, and sealed them (also by hand), a process I found incredibly interesting. Sebastian explained that each style of empanada is sealed differently, and that typically varies culture to culture. Crimping the edges with a fork is pretty common practice. For places where a large variety of empanadas are served, a repulgue, or pattern, is applied to the pastry fold.

Overall, the “by hand” process stood out the most and something Hey Empana takes pride in. Though they would like to automate to make certain things a little easier in the kitchen, they will never minimize the importance of a homemade empanada. Which overall, ties right back to their roots. Recounting stories of indulging in from-scratch empanadas made by family members when growing up, you are immediately aware of the importance this food has, not only their past, but in their present and in a blossoming future.

Learn more about Hey Empana at www.heyempana.com