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
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
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
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
Rob: "I was a chef in New York and when
we came to Vermont I spent about five years managing restaurants
MT: "So how does a ballerina start an empanada
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
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
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."