Eric and Kevin Schamber never figured on empanadas for a business model. Of course, they were familiar with the savory stuffed pastries from their homeland of Argentina and liked them plenty.
Opening a business dedicated to empanadas couldn’t have been further from their minds less than two years ago. But today, Feb. 8, that business, EmpanadUS, opens in Riverside at 7 E. Burlington St. It’s safe to say it’s the first Argentinian food establishment in the village.
EmpanadUS is not a restaurant, per se. There are a couple of tables in front, but it’s principally a take-out place that also offers catering and delivery. The menu pretty much begins and ends with empanadas (at $2.25 a pop or $2 for 10 or more) and their chimichurri, a sauce made with parsley and garlic that Argentinians use often to accompany grilled meats.
“It’s gourmet fast food,” said Kevin. “It can be a main dish or an appetizer.”
A lineup of the various empanadas is available on the store’s website, and includes beef, chicken, ham and cheese, onion, spinach and even an Italian-inspired caprese empanada.
“It’s a combination of family recipes and our own trial-and-error,” said Kevin. “There are traditional recipes, but we thought we might look at ones for an American palate. We’re learning a lot as we go.”
Kevin, 20, came to the U.S. in 2006 and plans on studying architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eric, 27, arrived in the states in 2003 and graduated from IIT as an electrical engineer. He’s been commuting back to Chicago to pitch in getting the business up and running from Boulder, Colo., where he works for a green technology company that produces wind turbines for residential and commercial use.
“Really [the empanada business] is more exciting,” said Eric.
About a year-and-a-half ago as a way to help pay for school, the Schambers’ sister, Leslie, opened a vintage clothing booth at the Randolph Street Market, held one weekend a month in the West Loop.
Her brothers helped with preparations for the booth and accompanied her to the market on her first Saturday. The booth made just $50 that day. They needed to give customers a little incentive to buy.
“I had the idea to prepare empanadas,” said Eric. “If they bought a skirt, we’d give them an empanada. We sold $350 the next day. The next month, we brought empanadas instead of skirts and dresses.”
EmpanadUS has been a mainstay at the market since that time, and the Schambers, who live in Riverside, rented out a commercial kitchen space to prepare for their weekends each month. The success prompted them to start looking for a kitchen space of their own. It ended up being quite close to home.
Their mother was walking in downtown Riverside one day and learned that Mi Casita, a Mexican restaurant formerly in the space at 7 E. Burlington St., was closing and the owner was interested in selling the business.
While they weren’t interested in buying the business, the Schambers did agree to take over the lease and have spent the past couple of months cleaning and installing a modern kitchen there.
While opening the store is big step up from selling empanadas from a stand at a market one weekend a month, both Kevin and Eric Schamber say they’re ready for the change.
“Our parents have been working independently most of their lives,” said Eric. “Working for someone else limits you. Financially speaking, there’s more of a chance to grow and it’s more exciting, because it depends on you.”