Egg Harbor Township resident Michelle Torres has made empanadas since as far back as she can remember, and her spin on the traditional Spanish pastry has been a big hit with family and friends.
A year ago, she realized there might be a market for the pastry outside her dining room, teaming up with longtime friend Uriel Malizia to create specialty catering company Empanada Mammas.
"Everybody was like, 'Oh, you should sell these,' and together we just came up with this idea, and it seems like it's turning out to be a good thing," said Torres, who lives in the McKee City section of Egg Harbor Township.
Torres' specialty is her beef empanada, which she calls the "brawny," made with onions, peppers, potatoes and Mamma's Special Sauce. The "yellow belly" is made with the same recipe, the beef swapped in favor of chicken. The pair also offers the chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker "sweety," and the bacon chili cheesedog "American dream."
The pair made their debut at Bayfest in Somers Point in April, selling their pastries for $4 apiece and $8 with a platter including rice with red bean sauce and cabbage salad with corn.
At both Bayfest and their follow-up appearance at the Hamilton Township Hometown Celebration, they could hardly keep up with demand, Malizia said.
"Bayfest, it was a long line, all day; it was great," said Uriel, also of McKee City. "Mays Landing was good, too. It was cool because people repeatedly came back."
The Empanada Mammas have made a pledge to use their success to help others, setting aside a portion of each sale for charity. Torres and Malizia, both of whom have volunteered at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission since they were kids, decided to make it their first beneficiary.
The pair presented the mission with a check for $2,000 on July 26, also bringing with them samples of their beef and chicken empanadas for the staff to try.
Director of Men's Ministries Bill Warner, who accepted the check on behalf of the mission, said he was impressed with the women's generosity.
"To be able to give that much money to us, is just wonderful," Warner said. "I mean, it just goes to show you the hearts that they have, not just in their business but for other people as well."
Warner's praise for the pair, whom he has known for years as volunteers, also extended to their culinary creations.
"Oh, my gosh, they're wonderful," he said. "I mean, seriously, they're wonderful. Crunchy ... I feel like I'm on Food Channel."
The Empanada Mammas will make their next appearance at the Atlantic City Seafood Festival at Bader Field on Sept. 14-15. In addition to festival appearances, they do private orders, with a minimum purchase of 15. Empanadas can be delivered both fresh-cooked and frozen.
For more information about Empanada Mammas, call 609-241-5566, find them on Facebook or visit empanadamam
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