Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Authentic Argentinian empanadas
When Giampieri hosted a graduation party for 200 guests in June 2013, she had no idea that she was about to stumble upon her next business opportunity. "We had an international menu," she recalls, "which included Argentinian empanadas, Italian, and Mexican food. At the end of the day we found out that nobody ate anything but the empanadas, and I thought we might have something there."
An entrepreneur at heart, with previous successful home businesses in leather and point of sale, Giampieri dove right in, securing booth space at the City of Thornton's Fourth of July celebration the following month. "We ended up selling out of empanadas before the fireworks even went off," she adds. "For a couple of years after that, we went from one event to another, selling our empanadas. Each and every time, we always sold out."
Recognizing that she'd need her own kitchen if she wanted to "get serious" about the empanada business, Giampieri began a search for an appropriate location and signed a lease on the company's production and retail space in Erie in May 2015. While her intention was to focus on selling the handcrafted empanadas wholesale through grocery stores, the location enabled Giampieri to sell direct to the public as well.
These retail sales were necessary to sustain Gaucho de Argentina through the 18 months required to obtain USDA approval for wholesale distribution. "Then, it took another five months before we were able to land our products in our first grocery store," Giampieri says.
Today, customers can purchase Gaucho de Argentina's seven empanada varieties frozen or hot and ready from the 1,500-square-foot kitchen in Erie as well as at area Lucky's Markets, Le Frigo, Lulu's Farm, and Carniceria Guadalajara.
Based primarily on family recipes, the empanadas are crafted from imported Argentinian dough and locally-sourced fillings. "People ask me why I don't make the dough myself," Giampieri says, "but why would I try to recreate something that is perfect? The imported dough is critical for the authenticity of the product." Her other go-to vendors include Tonali's Meats, Interstate Packaging, Sysco, and Restaurant Depot.
Giampieri and her small team "make every empanada with love," pressing them by hand, two at a time. In 2017, they made 27,679, with a similar number forecast for 2018. A recent equipment order should enable them to double production shortly.
Their beef empanada is the top seller, though the chicken and chorizo and egg varieties are also popular. "People say our Colorado Cheesecake empanada is the best pastry dessert they've ever had," Giampieri adds. "But since it's outside the normal realm of an empanada, a lot of people haven't tried it."
Because of the complexity of USDA regulations, Giampieri doesn't foresee adding any new meat fillings to her product line. However, she notes that she does have a family recipe for a mushroom filling and may add that as another vegetarian empanada option in the future.
Challenges: "One of our biggest challenges is that many people don't know what an empanada is or that they can find them in their grocer's freezer," Giampieri says. "It's also tough to juggle our wholesale growth with our retail business. My dream has always been to be a wholesaler, but the retail side has been paying the bills."
Opportunities: Giampieri's dreams are likely to come true sooner rather than later. "We've been working with a major high-end grocery store in downtown Denver," she adds. "We have a verbal agreement and they have our bar codes, so we're very excited about that. We're also working with a national distributor who is very interested in carrying our empanadas and can open our product up to grocers outside of Colorado."
Additionally, Giampieri is planning to add appetizer-sized empanadas as a wholesale product as well as bottle Gaucho de Argentina's traditional empanada marinating sauce.
Needs: "More hours in the day," Giampieri laughs. "I'm working with an Argentinian chef to try to bring him in to do more of the cooking. I would very much like to get out of the kitchen and serve more as the brand ambassador because I'm very passionate about our product."