January 5, 2022

Quebracho Empanadas (Season 4 Episode 1)

Quebracho Empanadas, a wholesale manufacturer of frozen empanadas, was born from the ashes of  – Quebracho Charcuterie & Pies –a small-scale pop-up and catering company specializing in her grandmother’s empanadas. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Belén Rodríguez, to shut down her business. She was faced with the decision of either closing the business for good or pivoting and finding a way to continue sharing her family’s recipes during such unprecedented times Quebracho Empanadas was born. 

Her new concept allowed her to keep the company’s essence alive while still doing what she loved and, most importantly, being accompanied by the same team –the same family it all started with. Quebracho Empanadas is now a wholesale manufacturer of frozen empanadas that people can take home and finish cooking in just under 20 minutes for an authentic, homemade family meal.

Quebracho Empanadas Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hello, this is Stephanie Hansen and you’re listening to the makers in Minnesota podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things. And there is a little talk around town that kind of keeps bubbling up. And it is about Cabe. rochow empanadas. And people are crazy about empanadas. I don’t know, like what it is, but you put something you put filling inside a dough pocket, and people are really excited about it. So I’m here today with bailin Rodriguez and she is the founder of Cabe rochow. Empanadas. And, like, again, I don’t know what it is specifically about empanadas. But people are crazy about them once you say.

Belén Rodríguez 0:56
I think so. Yeah. Well, they’re such a versatile item that you know, it just it’s a good item for any kind of situation in your day.

Stephanie Hansen 1:05
It’s kind of like to I wonder if because people are also really crazy about dumplings, like anything that’s kind of in a surprise rolled up little packet people get real excited about

Belén Rodríguez 1:17
Yeah, I agree. I agree. It’s just you know, that little surprise element, but also the practicality and convenience behind it.

Stephanie Hansen 1:25
Yeah, of carrying a handhold so when did you start making empanadas? Well, this

Belén Rodríguez 1:30
goes back way back in time. You know, I started making empanadas. Gosh, I don’t know maybe when I was six, seven years old when my grandma is back home. You know, both my grandmother’s were really big into cooking and grandma Yaya, she is my mom’s mom. And she was always more on the savory side of things. So I would get to learn all you know, like the entrees and the big dishes from her. And then Grandma, I’ll Sera. My dad’s mom. She was more she had a really big sweet tooth to with and so I learned all the desserts and whatnot from her.

Stephanie Hansen 2:07
Where did you grow up?

Belén Rodríguez 2:09
I grew up in a city called Rosario in Argentina. It’s a relatively big city. So there’s I think right now 2.5 million people in the space of the Twin Cities. So it’s a very dense city, and it’s just north of what is Iris?

Stephanie Hansen 2:25
And when did you move to Minnesota?

Belén Rodríguez 2:28
I moved to Minnesota in 2012. How?

Stephanie Hansen 2:32
Find yourself here.

Belén Rodríguez 2:35
Well, I gotta thank my husband, Rob for that. So Rob, he’s from the North Shore Silver Bay. And we met back in 2006. In Colorado, I was doing sort of like a student exchange program or a Work and Travel program, I should say, right, you know, in the midst of college, and he happened to be living there and we both worked for the same ski resort.

Stephanie Hansen 2:58
Which resort Did you work at?

Belén Rodríguez 3:00
Beaver Creek in the Vail Valley?

Stephanie Hansen 3:02
Boy, I love Beaver Creek like yeah,

Belén Rodríguez 3:04
very nice place. Yeah,

Stephanie Hansen 3:06
very exclusive. So it’s just a lovely place to ski. Oh my gosh, and they give you hot chocolate chips when you hot chocolate chip cookies when you get off the lifts? They do. They do? That’s right. That’s right. Yeah, I’m a big fan. So you find your way to Minnesota and then you get out of college? Did you start making empanadas right away? Or did you do other things?

Belén Rodríguez 3:28
No, not right away. So I would say my journey with food was you know, rooted in homesickness here. So when I first moved here, I actually followed what I had studied for in Argentina. So in Argentina, I went to college for scientific translation and interpreting, so very different from food became specialized in medicine. And I was doing translation of clinical trial protocols back home. So naturally, when I moved here, I tried to find okay. Yeah, so when I moved here, you know, naturally, I tried to look for something in the same field. And I got a job as a Spanish interpreter in HCMC in downtown Minneapolis.

Stephanie Hansen 4:14
Sure. So I kept my around interesting job.

Belén Rodríguez 4:18
It was it was you know, I think it was fantastic because it brought you know, what I went, you know, what I had studied at home, but then also it connected me with a whole new population and just being able to do work, you know, community interpreting so it was exciting from the point of view that you know, we were in the O R and the EDI and you know, got to learn a lot more about the field, but then also get to know a lot about the human you know, the, the, the humans involved in the situation. So you get to know a lot of people, a lot of interesting stories and then you connect on a much more different level.

Stephanie Hansen 4:59
It’s not surprising to me that you have this sort of analytical side of you because as a baker or someone who’s interested in pastry, you need a lot of precision typically. Now I know empanadas are a little more rustic. But how did you so you’ve always made these and I assume you started making them for friends and family. And then someone said, aha.

Belén Rodríguez 5:22
Yeah, that’s right. So the journey with food started, I think, somewhere near beach in 2015. So I started cooking purely out of homesickness. So we have my husband family here, and I will cook for them. And then you know, we met a few people here became friends, and then we would invite them or bring food to their houses. And that sort of like ignited something in wanting to say, Well, I kind of want to make something out of this hobby. So I started volunteering, I got out my first job in the food industry was had honey and dry in St. Louis Barker work there on Saturdays. And then I worked at Eden Prairie, at campiello, in your temporary in the wood fired oven. So that’s when I started, you know, working the line. And then I did a stodg, back home in Argentina, with Francis Mallmann at one of his restaurants. And then finally, I got a job at the bachelor farmer.

Stephanie Hansen 6:25
Wow, great career there. So you’ve had all this experience with the restaurant folks. And packaged goods is kind of different. So how did you make that leap from? You know, I’m making these empanadas to, I’m going to go into packaged goods.

Belén Rodríguez 6:41
Yeah, very different paths. So when we opened grochow, we thought that we would want to end up having something very similar to say, cervix. So a meat and cheese I think you Stephanie, have seen the work that I did before. You know, in at the bachelor farmer, I got to participate a lot in there, charcuterie, cheese, you know, fermentation program. So I was very, very lucky that way that I got to learn so much, you know, all these detailed recipes. And, you know, when I left a bachelor farmer, I thought, Okay, well, maybe I’ll try something in this particular niche. But then the pandemic forced us to shut down and I found myself being furloughed from the hospital, I still had the job at the time. I had nothing with abbraccio because every single event that I had booked until the spring of 2021, had gotten canceled. So my husband and I sat down and we said, Okay, well, what do we do now? Do we close for good? Do I try something new? Do we give kabocha another try? And I really wanted to keep the company. It’s such a, you know, it has a special place in my heart. It really brings together my roots, my culture, my story, what I enjoy doing as well. So we said, Actually, Rob was the one that said, well, so many people have been asking about frozen, empanadas, frozen food in general, everybody’s tired about cooking at home. Everybody still wants to support local businesses. So we said, Okay, let’s go ahead and do this. We signed up. In six farmers markets, we came up with the most basic packaging we could. And often we went to six farmers markets in town to test the product.

Stephanie Hansen 8:25
And when you were at farmer’s markets, did you just have one flavor? Or did you do like a vegetarian and then a meat one,

Belén Rodríguez 8:31
we had all three. So we had the flagship empanadas, as we call them, our cheese, I’m sorry, our chicken, beef, and then spinach and ricotta cheese. And right before the pandemic, we also had a rotating program of seasonal empanadas that will change on a monthly basis. And that’s, you know, that was what we did to highlight the wonderful local produce that we could get here are relationships with small local farmers. But then obviously, with the pandemic, we said, okay, let’s just go ahead and focus on these three. And then obviously, that is something that we can come back to as the company, the new company starts expanding.

Stephanie Hansen 9:15
And how many empanadas? Were you selling a week at farmer’s markets? Because that was during COVID to when they were like basically handing you orders to your car window.

Belén Rodríguez 9:24
Yeah, exactly. So I think the most we got to do at that point. Must have been anywhere between 70 and 90 dozen a week. Okay, that’s it. Yeah, it was it was it was amazing to see that people welcome the concept so well.

Stephanie Hansen 9:42
And at this point now, where are you? Because Are you just selling retail? Are you also selling farmer’s markets? And are you in a commercial kitchen?

Belén Rodríguez 9:50
We are Yeah, so we’re not at farmer’s markets right now. You know, approaching the end of the season here, but we have expanded to six He stores we are in three states and have two distribution partners. And then we also do e commerce as well. So I would say that we’ve grown to anywhere depending on on the season right, up to close to 500,000 a month a week.

Stephanie Hansen 10:19
Wow. So the pandemic for you has almost been a moneymaker. I mean, because you’ve completely transformed your business.

Belén Rodríguez 10:28
Yes, yeah. It completely change who we are. And I think, you know, it made us realize, wow, you know, I had no idea, you know, that my grandma’s recipes could be such a popular item. And it makes me really happy to see okay, wow, okay, I can really share these and I can bring the concept to not just the Twin Cities, but now we have people in grammar re buying them. We’re in Chicago, different places in Wisconsin. So it’s, it’s been very rewarding

Stephanie Hansen 10:58
that way. And do you think you’ll just keep on this path and grow with more stores? And what is your capacity? Is there ever a point where you can’t keep up?

Belén Rodríguez 11:08
Yes, definitely. I think that what we see for kabocha is that we want to become a mass retail company, or brand at this point. And we would love to continue expanding the name and the brand and bring it everywhere in the United States. We are in conversations for expansion right now. A little bit too early to confirm anything, but we are talking to more chains, and we are taking steps already for 2022 that could potentially bring us to 10,000 empanadas a day.

Stephanie Hansen 11:45
Wow. Imagine that. You’re all proud?

Belén Rodríguez 11:51
Yes, she is, you know, we try to keep her updated on everything that’s happening with the company. We we try to stay in touch fairly often. She’s in a nursing home right now in Argentina. She got in right before the pandemic. So it’s one of those things where, you know, we tried to connect with her as much as we can.

Stephanie Hansen 12:11
Is your husband working with you full time then too.

Belén Rodríguez 12:13
He’s not he’s actually a beer Brewer at inbound in in downtown Minneapolis. And he has been doing that for, I would say about four years now. He’s very happy. It’s a wonderful company that he’s working for. And he does help with kabocha a lot though. He’s involved in every single aspect, but still has his full time job too.

Stephanie Hansen 12:36
So if local Minnesota folks want to find you and maybe put you on their holiday appetizer table, or if they’re doing any entertaining for the holiday season, because they’re great for entertaining, because you can heat them up and their handheld. Where should they find you?

Belén Rodríguez 12:51
They can find us at every co op in the Twin Cities. So anywhere from sewer the wedge a side Lake wins. And we’re also in Kawasaki. We’re going to be doing in store demos for at many locations. So keep an eye on our social media. And we’re also going to be doing some special sales. So folks that haven’t tried them can get a chance to give them a try for the first time. Or you know like you said it’s definitely include them in their holiday in their holiday meal.

Stephanie Hansen 13:21
I love it. I can’t wait and do you when you have an empanada? It’s kind of a handheld item, but you can dip it in different things too. Right?

Belén Rodríguez 13:29
You can Yeah, that’s what I try to tell folks. It’s a very versatile item. You know, you can have them as a handheld item for a party. Put them in a platter make some chimichurri. There’s different sauces a heat you Creole show. We actually have a blog in our website with some recipes that folks can go and research just to get some ideas and inspiration. But then also you can you can eat them for a very light lunch. If you’re on the go. I like to you know, serve them with a sight of greens at night Robin, I’d like to have them with maybe a small cup of soup. And we’ve actually heard from folks serving our empanadas with a sunny side up egg and maybe a cup of juice for breakfast on the weekend.

Stephanie Hansen 14:13
I love it. Thank you so much for being a guest and sharing your success. You’ve done an amazing job. And I just wish you guys the best. Thanks for being on the program.

Belén Rodríguez 14:24
Thank you, Stephanie for inviting us. It’s been a pleasure.

Stephanie Hansen 14:27
We will talk soon. Okay, bye bye bye

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