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Empanada Madness celebrates first anniversary

Andrea Hall was looking around Kansas City for a taste of her first home – Caracas, Venezuela – but she couldn’t find it. So she made it herself, with her family’s help.

Hall and her family, friends and customers celebrated the first anniversary of their restaurant, Empanada Madness, at 906 Southwest Blvd., in September. She came up with the name by envisioning that “people are going crazy for it to the point that they will stop and grab an empanada,” she told Kansas City Hispanic News.

Hall, whose maiden name is Penaloza, and her family worked like crazy to get the restaurant off the ground.

“It’s been a lot of work to get to owning your own business,” she said. “I’m excited, I’m happy … but it still feels like it’s not mine yet. I feel like I need to be here for three or more years for me to be able to say that I’m here, that this is my business. I have to keep growing.”

At the anniversary celebration, Christopher Mo-rales, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City’s embajadores chair, said that Hall had asked the key questions about becoming an entrepreneur.

“You asked, ‘Why not? Why not me?’” Morales said.

Hall and her family came to Kansas City in 1997, when she was nearly 12, and they settled in Westport. But she soon found her real home a little farther north.

“The first place that I felt like it was home was Southwest Boulevard, the Westside area,” she said. “I was able to get … the things that reminded me of home. It was a perfect match for me, since I was 12. I always told my mom that if we ever open a restaurant, it has to be on Southwest Boulevard.”

And that’s where it came to be, with help from her mother and stepfather, her grandparents and her brother Carlos, along with other family members.

“My mom and my stepdad – they hold this restaurant together,” she said. “The amount of income I can provide to them is so little for the huge work that they do for the restaurant, and for me that’s priceless.”

All the restaurant’s recipes come from Hall’s mother, “things that she learned how to do with my grandma,” she said.

“If we do something wrong, my grandma will be like, ‘No. you cannot cut the meat that way; you have to shred it this way,’” Hall said. “She will stop you right there, because she wants it to be how she was taught and how she believes it should be.”

One of Hall’s goals is to make people aware of the versatility of Venezuelan cuisine and how it differs from those of other Latin-American countries.

“I think that Mexican food’s really good, and also Venezuelan food is really good,” she said. “I came to let everybody know that there’s more than Mexican food in Kansas City. That was my main concern: letting people know that Venezuela is in town. We also have Colombia. There are people from Peru and Argentina. I’m assuming that they’re trying to grow in their own way.”

One way Hall would like to grow with Empanada Madness is to stay open later to serve people who are out enjoying Kansas City’s night life, such as patrons of the Kansas City Power & Light District. The restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

“That’s something that I want to do, stay open later,” she said. “We don’t have the staff. We’re trying to let the business grow for me to be able to afford to have a night crew.”

While opening the world of Venezuelan cuisine to Kansas City, Hall attracted a customer who’s attracted a lot of attention himself: Kansas City Royals catcher and Venezuelan native Salvador Perez.

“He’s been coming to the restaurant since it opened,” Hall said. “He was one of the first persons to support us. Every single time he’s in town to play games, he would stop here. There was not a day that he didn’t stop to come and eat food here.”

Not even the day of the last game of the World Series, when Perez had lunch at the restaurant.

“He brought his whole family,” Hall said. “They had a table that crossed the whole restaurant. He made it his job to bring people from his country to let them know there was a Venezuelan restaurant and for people to know how his food tastes. He’s the type of person who will walk in here and come and hug you. … He treats you like family. People will stop him from eating to take his picture, and he will always take his time and take a picture with them. He loves kids. Every single time a child will come he always will raise them because he’s so tall, so the parents can take a picture.”

Hall also makes clear what the picture in her mind is for her restaurant.

“My vision is just basically to provide a better quality of food and for me to care for the people who are coming here,” she said.

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