Belén de la Cruz, the owner and founder of her eponymous business, has become a fixture at places such as Chattahoochee Food Works and Lucy’s Market, thanks to her fresh, delicious and authentic Argentinian empanadas. What started as a hobby has become a thriving food business, complete with several metro Atlanta locations. Here, she explains how she stumbled into what is now a mini Argentinian food empire.

How did you get your start in baking and cooking?

I’m not a professional chef; I’m self taught. Cooking was always a hobby, and Argentine culture is all about food and cooking. I have a background in marketing, but I turned my hobby into a business when I moved to Atlanta in 2015 for my husband’s job. I started cooking a lot because of the preservatives in food. I didn’t want my kids to eat them. A friend asked me to give her a cooking class, and I felt like it was something I should have been doing all my life. Then I got my food cottage license. There were really no Argentine places in Atlanta at that time.

How are Argentinian empanadas unique?

First, we use flour, not corn, like other South American countries. We bake them instead of frying them. In terms of flavors, the fillings are distinctive because they reflect the typical foods and flavors of what we eat in Argentina, which are different from other countries in the region. At my business, our most popular fillings are beef, chicken and cheese, and beef and cheese. We did cheesy beef for our local customers in Atlanta, though it’s not a traditional filling. Neither is the butternut squash, but we grew up eating quiche with butternut squash. I wanted to bring our Argentine flavors to our empanadas.

This is not fast food. They are baked to order, with no preservatives. We also bring the empanada flour from Argentina because flour is processed differently here. Whenever we open in a new community, we like to introduce these differences and explain why our empanadas are a healthy option.

You’re known for your empanadas, but you also do alfajor pastries with dulce de leche.

When I started cooking classes and got my food cottage license, the only thing I could do from home was pastries. But when we opened the bakery to share our empanadas with even more people, I knew I couldn’t leave pastries behind. They were my starting point. We make them truly Argentine-style with dulce de leche, which is very traditional. We also added cakes. None of them have preservatives. We use other techniques to keep them fresh.

Do you cater events?

We do. I love having people add our Argentine flavors to their weddings and corporate events. The community is so open to trying new things, and we’re not trying to Americanize everything. I do love the carrot cake we added, even though it’s not typical in Argentina. People just kept asking for it.

Are you still offering cooking classes?

Yes. There was a moment when I had to stop during the pandemic and after opening our second and third locations. But in 2022, I felt something was missing, and I needed to go back to my classes. They’re how I got started. So I’m doing classes again, including team building for corporations. I do classes for teenagers, families and friends. I just open my kitchen and say, “This is how I cook.” Instead of just teaching people to follow a recipe, I like to give tips, pushing people to be smart in the kitchen and organized. I want them to have fun and find enjoyment in cooking. They take away much more than an empanada recipe.


PHOTO: Joann Vitelli

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