Excellent empanadas: EmpaNash opens brick-and-mortar location in Ski Run Marina
For the past nine years, South Lake Tahoe residents and visitors flocked to farmers’ markets and other events to get their hands on homemade empanadas from EmpaNash.
Now the hunt is over.
The husband and wife duo behind the business, Martín and Nash Mariani, opened their first brick and mortar location in Ski Run Marina on April 27. Business has been steadily improving Martín said, with an assortment of fresh empanadas on the dining table in the cozy space.
There’s beef, chicken, a delicious apple empanada and a shockingly great vegetarian empanada that could make even the most voracious carnivore question his/her dietary habits. Everything is made fresh, from the dough to the filling.
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“Word of mouth has been steadily increasing,” Martín says.
Those largely positive reviews are the product of hard work, some help and a journey filled with its share of challenges.
The origins of EmpaNash — a name cleverly blending Nash and empanada — date back to 2011.
When Martín’s mother would visit from Argentina she made homemade empanadas, stuffed puff pastries that are typically baked or fried. She would sell the empanadas to Martín’s and Nash’s coworkers and leave Tahoe with about $800 in cash, explained Nash.
After realizing the popularity of the empanadas, Nash asked Martín’s mother to show her how to make them.
In 2012 they started off at the Ski Run Farmers’ Market in South Lake Tahoe. It was a learning experience for the Marianis.
At first they brought pre-made empanadas — all completely made by hand in their apartment — in a freezer from home. To heat them, they brought a small convection oven.
The couple always wanted to serve the empanadas baked because it is healthier. However, heating them in a convection oven didn’t exactly prove to be efficient.
“We started not knowing really what we were doing,” Martín said.
In the second year at the farmers’ market the couple landed next to a fried donut booth. With baking the empanadas still causing long waits, the donut maker suggested trying his fryer.
In two minutes they had a perfectly fried empanada. The couple changed their approach and started frying them.
They also purchased a presser, allowing them to seal up the empanadas far quicker than closing them by hand. Production became faster and the lines and the farmers’ market started moving faster.
In the third year they actually started making money and expanded to more events, such as Live at Lakeview.
“Now every event we are sold out. Absolutely sold out,” Martín said of the third year.
With an increasingly successful business taking an increasing amount of time, Nash and Martín decided to pump the brakes so they could spend more time together with their son, Preston, who was 10 at the time.
In the fourth year they only did two events: the Ski Run Farmers’ Market and Live at Lakeview. That’s when people started clamoring for a physical store.
“The feedback was amazing,” Nash said.
From market to marina
In a way, the catering model may have helped EmpaNash become a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Traveling from event to event and taking the product to the customers helped build a loyal following.
They kept up the pace, catering at events such as the Made in Tahoe Festival and at businesses like South Lake Brewing Company.
The business model effectively worked as a multi-year advertising campaign.
“I just love that a lot of the locals like us and they’re supporting us,” Nash said.
Opening the neatly decorated and tiddy shop in Ski Run Marina was just one in a trio of life-altering events.
Nash also gave birth to Odin, the couple’s second child, and the family moved into a new home.
Nash jokes that they had two babies — she had Odin and Martín had the shop. It was about a six month process to open the business.
They renovated the location, which used to be a chocolate store. Martín essentially built a small kitchen from scratch.
Nash took care of the painting, which is consistent with the color scheme of the Argentine flag.
Much of the furniture is handmade and designed to spur a sense of community.
Community is very important to the Marianis. The layout is intended to encourage conversation among patrons. The art on the wall, which customers can purchase, is by a local artist. They hope to start serving local coffee.
The couple also is contemplating a discount for employees elsewhere in the marina, who they say have been very supportive since opening. When a customer orders The Cinner — an empanada stuffed with apples, cinnamon and brown sugar (a must try) — they suggest heading over to Art of Gelato for a scoop to go with the empanada.
They also serve three vegetarian options and three meat options — you can’t go wrong with any of them.
And earlier this month EmpaNash started serving several different takes on a breakfast empanada.
Eventually they hope to expand their hours and obtain a liquor license.
‘It kept us in Tahoe’
Sitting in their newly opened store, the Marianis keep coming back to one thing: gratitude.
They’re grateful for the support from community members who kept coming back.
They’re grateful for the advice they’ve received along the way.
And they’re grateful for landing their business in a “great location.”
“We’re very fortunate,” Nash said.
“Very lucky,” Martín added.
And ultimately, they’re grateful they were able to create a business that has allowed them to stay in Tahoe.
“It kept us here,” she said.
They hope to pay it forward by treating their employees right.
They plan to increase the current hourly wages and will likely hire additional employees as the summer season gets going.
“It’s remembering where you came from,” said Nash.
Taken as a whole, the cozy atmosphere, friendly staff and delicious food make for a pleasant dining experience — a hidden gem in the marina that surely will not remain hidden much longer.
EmpaNash is located in suite No. 106 at the Ski Run Marina, 900 Ski Run Blvd., in South Lake Tahoe. Find them online at http://www.empanash.com.
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