Maria Empanada, a fast-casual chain based in Denver, has won up to $3.5 million in Series A funding from the Colorado Impact Fund, the company said Thursday.
The three-unit chain was founded in 2010 by Lorena Cantarovici, who emigrated from Buenos Aires in 2000. Maria Empanada grew out of what was first a catering business from her home kitchen and converted garage.
A fourth location in the Denver area is in the works, and Cantarovici said the chain will expand into selected areas of Colorado. In time, she plans to expand nationally.
The funding will allow Maria Empanada to upgrade its kitchens and build infrastructure for thoughtful expansion, she said.
“We will continue to refine what we do, which is an art form: the making of empanada by hand,” Cantarovici said. “We feel we are ambassadors of this craft, which we feel is dying.”
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, empanadas are the star of the menu, with about four flavors offered at breakfast and 14 at lunch and dinner. The chain is also known for its open-crust tartas and tortillas española, or Spanish tortillas, which can be purchased whole or by the portion.
The gluten-free tortillas are made with sautéed potatoes, sweet onions, eggs and olive oil, priced at $36.49 for a whole tortilla that serves seven, or $5.89 per portion.
Empanadas are stuffed with fillings like the classic ground beef with peppers, eggs and olives, as well as a mix of vegetables with chimichurri, or spinach with béchamel. They’re priced at about $19 for half a dozen, or $3.55 each.
Some units serve beer and wine, Argentinian style, in sharable pingüino, or carafes. The average check is about $14, Cantarovici said.
The Colorado Impact Fund is a Denver-based venture-capital firm that invests in local companies with high-growth, scalable business models and a commitment to the community.
Other food-related investments in the fund’s portfolio are chai-tea brand Bhakti and chocolate-maker Chocolove.
“Lorena Cantarovici is emblematic of the type of entrepreneur CIF supports,” said Grace Oliva of the fund in a statement. “We have been incredibly impressed by Lorena’s ability to develop an on-trend, differentiated and highly scalable craft-casual concept. CIF is excited to partner with a talented and dynamic female entrepreneur.”
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