Owner and Creator of Quebracho Empanadas
When Belén Rodríguez moved from Argentina to Minneapolis with her American husband in 2012, she quickly developed an international social circle. She worked as a Spanish interpreter at Hennepin Healthcare, where her colleagues all over the world spoke 130 languages. “From Somalia to Russia, you name it,” she says. “It was really fulfilling to be able to connect with people from so many countries.”
But Belén was homesick, so she began cooking empanadas, one of her favorite foods. The project opened doors. She began working weekends in a local bakery, which led to positions at restaurants including, Campiello Eden Prairie, Francis Mallmann’s 1884 Restaurante, and The Bachelor Farmer. In 2018, she also launched a side gig, Quebracho Charcuterie & Pies, based on recipes passed down from her grandmother. The name Quebracho literally translates to “axe-breaker”; it’s the name of a hardwood tree that grows abundantly in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Belén invested $1,000 of personal savings and began selling at a farmer’s market in the Linden Hills neighborhood. It was an auspicious move. “We were already putting the extra empanadas in the freezer because we were so busy with work, taking them out to eat throughout the week,” Belén said. When the pandemic made direct sales nearly impossible, a new idea took hold and she pivoted in May 2020. The part-time Quebracho Charcuterie & Pies became Quebracho Empanadas, a full time business.
It was challenging. Belén received help from the North Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) in Northern Minneapolis, a nonprofit that helped her initially launch in 2018. NEON had previously supplied a test kitchen in a commercial shared space, provided micro grants and then connected her to small business loans and emergency funding during the pandemic. “As an immigrant, I didn’t know the system,” she says. “It was very hard to navigate the inspectors and the licensing process, and I speak fluent English!” Today, Quebracho Empanadas are carried in 30 stores and Belén is looking toward national distribution. “I can see a path to bring in more people and increase wages,” she says. “It’s about more than just empanadas. We can really benefit workers.” It goes to show how the right support creates a positive ripple across the community. “Give immigrants a little help, and they’ll make great contributions,” she says.