After closing 2 spots during pandemic, Maria Empanada leases in Berkeley

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Lorena Cantarovici is Maria Empanada’s founder and CEO. (Photos courtesy of Maria Empanada)

After closing two locations during the pandemic, Maria Empanada is ready for a fresh start.

The local Argentinian restaurant is planning to open next year at 3535 W. 44th Ave. in Berkeley, which will bring the company back up to four locations.

“We wanted to open in a neighborhood this time because people are always going to be there, whether you’re working from home or not,” founder Lorena Cantarovici told BusinessDen. “You sleep there, wake up there, and even if you leave, you always come back there.”

Maria Empanada shuttered its Denver Tech Center location when its lease ended at 8000 E. Belleview Ave. at the end of June, due to a slowdown in office traffic. Around the same time, Cantarovici decided not to reopen the company’s stall in the Broadway Market food hall at 950 Broadway, which has still yet to reopen after the pandemic shutdown.

“The sense of opening another location brings hope and accelerates everyone,” she said. “It means growth, which is a big deal after 2020, which was filled with more downs than ups.”

Cantarovici immigrated from Buenos Aires to the U.S. in 2009 with just $300 in her pocket and began making empanadas in her home kitchen that next year. She opened her first restaurant at 1298 S. Broadway in Platt Park in 2011. That location is still up and running, as are restaurants at 1700 Platte St. in LoHi and in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace.

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Maria Empanada makes empanadas from scratch daily, including breakfast ones with eggs and potatoes, and savory fillings like chicken chimichurri and caprese.

Cantarovici lease the 1,644-square-foot space in Berkeley, formerly home to a Pilates studio, at the end of October. She hopes to be able to open in the next four months, but “that’s probably unrealistic,” she said.

Maria Empanada has hired Denver-based Elsy Studios to design the space. She said she needs to build a patio and kitchen.

“For me, when I see Maria Empanada, I want to see, in my heart, a little bit of Buenos Aires. So, I always look for somewhere I can bring a bit of Buenos Aires. I knew this was the perfect place,” Cantarovici said. “It’s an old, sleepy neighborhood, but it’s evolving. There’s Billy’s Inn, an old dive bar, nearby with loyal customers. But at the same time you have Tocabe, and you can see the new and the old are both appreciated.”

Maria Empanada was able to survive the pandemic thanks to a shift in its model. The restaurant began accepting online orders and also began shipping frozen empanadas nationwide. The company also likes to credit Guy Fieri for featuring the chain for a fourth time on his show “Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives” during a special takeout edition.

“Let’s get this one open, and then, let’s continue the hope,” Cantarovici said.

Maria Empanada to open in Berkeley

11.8D Maria scaled

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