What do you get when you mix a Kickstarter campaign, two friends and a flair for food? Answer: the La Empanada Food Truck. In 2011, friends Gabrielle Arnold and Janelle Luce stumbled upon the chance to open their own food truck biz. With the backing of 116 supports, the pair raised more than $7,500 on Kickstarter, funds they used to paint, fix and insure their truck, which debuted late 2011. Since then, the two gourmands have been wowing fans across the city with the scrumptious edible envelopes they fill with everything from goat cheese to dark chocolate.
Edible Orlando: How did you find yourself in the food truck business?
Janelle: The truck kind of fell into my hands at the same time Gabi and I became friends. I love her blog and her cooking so when she told me she wanted to leave her desk job everything just clicked.
Gabrielle: I had been running a recipe blog called honestfare.com for a couple years at the time and really wanted to give my food endeavors a shot offline. The food truck was a way to explore a food concept in town without committing to a brick and mortar location right off the bat.
EO: What is your culinary background?
J: My first job at 16 was at a pizza place and I’ve been in the food biz ever since. After earning a degree and teaching for a few years, I decided to go back to food and work at Black Bean Deli. There I cooked, took care of customers, ordered from distributors, managed employees, and developed a catering program. It’s where I learned how the business functions inside and out.
G: I started out working in advertising and don’t have any formal culinary training. My culinary background is pretty simple actually: I love food and cooking and I’m a really picky eater. That combined, has always inspired me to make the kind of food I want to eat and feel proud to share with other people. Whether it’s through the recipes on my blog or what comes out of the truck, the philosophy is always to keep it simple, tasty and healthy whenever possible!
EO: Why empanadas?
J: Our first idea for the truck was to make excellent salads, sandwiches and the like, but it seemed too broad. I was working with Andy Corton at Black Bean Deli then and we often experimented with different empanada fillings behind the scenes for fun; we even did an empanada stand once at an event downtown and had a great response to it. One day, Gabi and I got on the topic of empanadas, throwing out idea after idea for different fillings, and when the ideas became overwhelming we knew that we finally had an exciting concept that would work for quick service.
G: It’s just like Janelle said, once we started talking about empanadas we couldn’t stop. Everything became an empanada, the possibilities were endless and we just knew we had to run with it. Janelle, Andy (chef/owner of black bean deli) and I started experimenting with fillings and did a few parties and caterings to test the concept further, and the rest is history!
EO: What has been your most popular flavor?
J: Funny enough, we sell more Picadillo empanadas than anything. It’s a Cuban-style ground beef with carrots, potatoes and olives. Probably our most simple filling but we’ve perfected the recipe. It’s the only empanada that we always carry. After that, I’d say that the Vietnamese sandwich-inspired Chicken Banh Mi, Buffalo Chicken and the Curry Cauliflower empanadas are favorites.
G: People love chicken, so anything with chicken. Ha. It’s hard to say though because everyone has their favorite and we get on kicks of making something and then it really takes off. The Greek empanada with feta cheese, roasted red peppers, olives and arugula is a good example of an empanada that’s become really popular in recent months.
EO: It seems as though you’re making an effort to insert some pretty healthy fare (eg. kale apple salad). How’s that going over with food truck fans?
J: It goes over really well for the folks looking for a healthy option. We’re selling more and more salad as we go so I think that’s a good sign.
G: Most of our empanadas are fried so we really do make an effort to balance things out with lighter options too! The healthier side of things is definitely explored more on honestfare.com with seasonal vegetarian recipes and more of a focus on nutrition, but a lot of that can be seen in La Empanada as well. Our baked vegetarian empanadas like the Roasted Corn, Tomato & Goat Cheese and the Curry Cauliflower more popular than ever these days. And some of the healthy recipes from my blog even make it to the truck with huge success, like our Watermelon & Avocado Gazpacho.
EO: What has surprised you about the Orlando food truck scene?
J: Goodness, it’s huge! Last I heard there are 70 trucks out there. It really put Orlando on the culinary map, bringing some national attention to the city. I’m grateful to the supporters out there who keep our dreams alive. Thank you!
G: It’s great to see how many creative people are trying new things and putting themselves and their food out there. That’s not an easy thing to do. I’m impressed by how many food trucks are adding such flavor to the community.
To learn more about where to find the La Empanada Food Truck and what sort of dishes are on the menu, check their Facebook page.