The Mountain Times

°F Sat, April 19, 2014

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Ana’s Empanadas popularity allows for expansion

RUTLAND COUNTY-Several years ago, Ana Di Tursi started making empanadas and selling them at the Rutland Farmers Market. She was using her home kitchen and experimenting with different recipes, all the while cultivating a loyal following. The farmer's market became the source for demand as well as supply. She began networking with farmers to secure the freshest ingredients. At that time, it must have been hard for Ana and her husband Rob to imagine just how their business would expand throughout Rutland County.

Today, thousands of empanadas are handmade in a commercial kitchen in Rutland every week. Some of those are sold directly from the kitchen/storefront for takeout. Some get trucked up to the base of the Needles Eye trail on Killington's Skye Peak. On busy days, there is a line out the door of this modest shack. Skiers and riders fill up their pockets with empanadas for the gondola ride up. Others are sold at farmers markets and music festivals throughout the region. If you visited the Diamond Run Mall in in the last year, you may have caught the Ana's Empanadas kiosk there too.

The newest outlet for Ana and Rob to share their increasingly eclectic and diverse menu is Wally's restaurant next to Outback Pizza. Wally's retro 1950's diner has long been a local favorite for breakfast and lunch. Now it will also be open in the evenings as Ana's At Night, that's to the cooperation between the owners of Wally's, Ana and Rob. 

Q&A with Ana and Rob

MT: "What brought the two of you to Vermont in the first place?"
Ana: "The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. We were living in Brooklyn at the time. I had to drive past the wreckage every day. It got into my head.
Rob: "Shortly after 9/11 there was an anthrax scare. People were getting sick and we were afraid to open mail. I remember I was online looking for an infant gas mask for our one-year-old son. They had sold out and I thought 'what the hell am I doing?' I clicked over and started looking at Vermont real estate. Shortly, thereafter, the decision was made."

MT: "Did you have foodservice experience before coming to Vermont?"
Ana: "No, I was a ballerina... I was teaching at one of the area's best schools on Staten Island. Some of my students became successful professional dancers and have appeared on Broadway. I left my home country of Argentina to dance in the US. That is my passion. When I moved to Vermont I couldn't leave it behind. For a full year I drove 5 hours there and five hours back to continue to teach dance. I participated in Dancing with the Rutland Stars this year and I teach tango lessons here and there. I am doing a workshop in February. I am always connected to dance."
Rob: "I was a chef in New York and when we came to Vermont I spent about five years managing restaurants and Inns."

MT: "So how does a ballerina start an empanada business?"
Ana: "I taught ballet for two years in Rutland. The art just wasn't the same as in the city. The first year I had all these students and everything was great but the second year I had only four students. They weren't into it. They thought they were working too hard.
Rob: "Ana was going stir crazy. She called me at work to tell me she was making empanadas and bringing them to the farmer's market and there was nothing I could do to stop her. She had our young son in a backpack and a little card table with 40 or 50 empanadas and quickly sold out. In the following weeks she brought more and more. Empanada equipment quickly filled our house. At one point we had a bakers rack in our bedroom and Ana was using our kitchen at all hours of the day and night. It was four years ago we started operating our shack at the base of Needle's Eye. We were doing all the production by hand in our home at that time. It started to get pretty crazy."

MT: Well, I understand why you had to move to that professional space in Rutland! Did the growth of the business surprise you?
Ana: "I am an optimist, and I think you have to be in Vermont. If something doesn't work, you try something else. We have always felt the need to step it up. We take it day by day and are always open to new opportunities. We always are looking forward. We work hard, sometimes 16 hours a day. We are still a mom and pop operation."
Rob: "If the customers are asking for more, then you have to give it to them. We have had customers from the mountain shack telling us they wanted to see us on the access road for years. People have been asking how they can get empanadas after the shack closes at 3 p.m."

MT: "Well, you have responded to that by opening Ana's at Night. How is it going?"
Rob: "It reminds of our first year at the shack. We had to build our clientele and get the word out there. We are now doing double what we did that first year. This Wally's location feels similar. We are just waiting for it to 'pop.' We are doing some fun stuff here. On Monday's we will be doing a Latin soul food offering. For only $8.95 you get big plates of traditional Spanish and South American food and you can get $2 draft beers. It has to be one of the best deals on the road. We are busy for Après Ski and are open every day except Tuesday."
Ana: "We are settling in. Kristen Partesi, who is a teacher and gallery coordinator at the Chaffee Center in Rutland, painted a beautiful mural on one of our walls. We offer South American influenced cocktails like mojitos and sangria. People are excited to try something new on the access road."

MT: "What do you like about working and living in this area?"
Ana: "I like the people. The people are different than in the big city. Farmers are amazing to me. They have big hearts and they are very smart. You need to be very smart to work with nature."
Rob: "We work very closely with farmers. All of our meat and eggs and a good amount of the vegetables we use come direct from the farm. It is great doing business with them. Over the years we have helped each other out a lot. It's great. Everything is up front, open and honest. We are all working to build our local economy. If I call a huge foodservice company... and order chickens, can they tell me that those chickens will be slaughtered today and delivered tomorrow?  That is the level of freshness we have come to expect. We haven't been beating people over the head about using local ingredients either. I think the freshness and quality speaks for itself."