Restaurant chain Empanada opens restaurant in downtown Evanston – Chicago Tribune

5411 Empanadas, a Chicago-based Argentinian restaurant, opened at 809 Davis Street in downtown Evanston on May 7, attracting more than 350 customers.

Beginning as a food truck in 2009, the business has grown to encompass four locations in the Chicago area as well as the Houston area. Current owners Nicolas Ibarzabal and Mariano Lanfranconi opened their first physical store on Clark Street in Chicago in 2012.

Both have a special connection to Evanston as North West alumni. For Ibarzabal, starting a business in his college town was a dream.

“I always said to my partners, ‘Hey, Evanston would be an amazing place for our brand.’ So I always had Evanston in mind,” he said.

After spending time cooking in her apartment kitchen, the entrepreneurs began selling their dish in a food truck — while renting space in a community kitchen — to keep up with demand. It was a game-changer, according to Ibarzabal, because the exposure helped them take it to the next level.

Their food truck is still in operation and can still be booked for a variety of events, the owners said. The downtown Evanston location primarily serves take-out and take-out orders, but there are also sit-down and eat-in accommodations.

The restaurant’s name pays homage to the international dialing code for Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina – a number Ibarzabal said he calls frequently to reach his family back home.

The 5411 Empanadas menu centers around the empanada, a baked or fried pastry stuffed with meat, vegetables, and other fillings that originated in Spain. The dish is a staple in Argentine life, according to Ibarzabal, being served at a wide range of celebrations, from birthdays to weddings and even as a snack after football matches.

The varieties available from 5411 Empanadas include more traditional flavors while branching out to cater to a more American market. Several vegetarian and vegan options are available, including an “Impossible Meat” empanada, according to the owners.

“As long as you mix good flavors with good ingredients, you can’t go wrong,” Ibarzabal explained.

Restaurant owners, like many others, have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing their downtown Chicago storefront to close. As people worked from home and were reluctant to congregate, the business suffered from a lack of dining and appointment customers, the owners said. The owners knew they had to make a change to adapt to the “new normal”.

In 2020 they started their home baking service where customers could buy boxes of two dozen frozen empanadas in store. Shipping is also available. 5411 Empanadas also offers a monthly home-cooked meal subscription at a discounted price.

The owners have no plans to slow down, looking to increase the number of states that products can ship to. Currently they have 30. They hope to open another location by the end of the year, similar to Evanston’s, which focuses on delivery and collection.

The Evanston site is open Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Despite being thousands of miles from home, Ibarzabal said he remains connected to his roots through his business, even starting with his grandmother’s recipe and evolving.

“It’s crazy. For me, it brings a bit of my country to Chicago,” he said. “It feels like home.”

A lot has changed since 2009, with Ibarzabal starting a family that has grown alongside the business.

“When we started it, we never thought we’d get this far, just over 12 years later. With the good years, the bad years and the pandemic and everything, it’s been an experience of super crazy learning. It’s like a lifetime,” he said.

About Vivian J. Smith

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