Empanada Mama

This post was updated on 2/13/15

sold out day; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama
Sold out day; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama

The words “sold out” have become a big part of Kendall Bajek’s vocabulary these days. But don’t worry. That will change.

Bajek is Empanada Mama. And Empanada Mama is the newest, hottest eatery in Doylestown. I’d say it’s the best kept secret in Doylestown, but it’s not a secret anymore. Which is pretty amazing since Bajek opened her empanada bakery only 7 weeks ago (early May 2014) and is looking to move into a new, bigger location (see new address at the end of this post).

Empanadas are stuffed, hand-held pastries, often fried but also baked, and traditionally filled with meats. Although the pastry originally hails from Spain, every South and Central American country seems to have their own version.

Argentina is probably the most famous for their take on the tasty pastry, and that’s where Bajek learned how to make them. She spent six months living in Argentina, teaching English to airline pilots, and spending time in the kitchens of friends, learning how to make empanadas.

Baked and unique

Bajek’s empanadas are baked, making them lighter than the fried version. The crust is flaky, and is almost like filo dough, so it’s easy to eat more than one. In fact, if you are bringing them home, get more than you think you’ll need. You may eat one in the car.

So what’s all the excitement about these particular empanadas? They are hot, freshly made and creatively filled. Although there are some standards on the menu, new options are available every day depending on what Bajek sees in the produce store and what is seasonal.

argentina-inside-beef-empanada; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama
Argentina beef empanada. Photo courtesy of Empanada Mama.

For you meat eaters, there’s the B.A. Beef empanada with seasoned ground beef, peppers, onions, cumin and olives. Or a BBQ Pork with smoked pork, Gouda cheese, mozzarella and house made BBQ sauce (the smoked pork is made by Chef Ron Spada of {more than}>Q in Lambertville). You could also try the Buffalo Chicken empanada with shredded chicken, “MAMAmade” buffalo sauce, and gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses.

For vegetarians, Bajek makes at least two veggie options every day. “Vegetarians tell me they are so excited to be able to eat an empanada since traditionally they are filled with meat,” explains Bajek. “The vegetarian ones actually sell out faster than the meat ones.”

Caprese Stuffing Exposed; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama
Caprese Stuffing Exposed. Photo courtesy of Empanada Mama

I just checked today’s menu on Empanada Mama’s website (updated every day) and the vegetarian offerings are: Roasted Veggie, with oven-roasted zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, capers and mozzarella; Mediterranean Eggplant, with roasted eggplant, red peppers, feta and herbs; Sweet Balsamic Onion, with balsamic caramelized onions, fontina and mozzarella, or the Caprese, with cherry tomatoes, house-made basil pesto and mozzarella.

And then there’s dessert. Today’s offering is a Berry Mascarpone Empanada, with strawberries, blueberries, mascarpone-ricotta cream and lemon zest.

Traveling the world, one kitchen at a time

Bajek wasn’t always an Empanada Mama. When the CB East graduate went off to the University of Miami, she didn’t even know how to cook.

“My mom is a great cook, so I never really had to cook at home,” Bajek says. “But I started cooking in college because I like to eat good food. I’d Skype my mom from the kitchen, holding up a chicken, and saying, ‘Does this look right?’” Bajek also spent time at a Nordstrom Café doing prep and working the line.

After college, Bajek set off backpacking to Europe and Morocco. When a job fell through here, she just kept going, off to South America. It was when she was living in Buenos Aires that she fell in love with empanadas.

Kendall in Argentina kitchen; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama
Kendall in Argentina kitchen. Photo courtesy of Empanada Mama

“I loved eating them and they are all over, in your face, everywhere.” She asked friends if she could come to their kitchens to learn how to make them. In fact, Bajek has spent time in home kitchens throughout her travels, picking up different techniques and flavors.

At first, she just made the empanadas for friends and family. “My mom – who comes from 3 generations of bakers – doesn’t know how to make them, so I enjoyed teaching her something for a change.”

When Bajek found herself with a week off from a stressful job, and wanted something to do, she made empanadas and walked from business to business in downtown Doylestown selling them. Her thought was to do something fun for the summer before hitting the job search again.

Dtown Tech bought from me every day, and were so supportive. They are the ones who urged me to open up my own place,” she says. For two weeks, she sold her empanadas to the locals and asked for feedback about flavors and pricing.

She heard Andre’s Wine and Cheese Shop had an available space with a convection oven. Done deal. The initial plan was to do take-out but now you’ll find 10 seats available in the little eatery. You can also buy a glass of wine or Sangria from Andre’s next door to enjoy with your empanadas. [Update: Empanada Mama has since moved to 21 Donaldson St, near the Zen Den, in Doylestown]

“My biggest fear when I started was that people wouldn’t know what an empanada is”

“My biggest fear when I started was that people wouldn’t know what an empanada is,” Bajek says. So she purposely didn’t do the typical Argentinian fillings which tend to be heavy on the meat and spices. “I wanted to first do fillings with ingredients that are more familiar to people here,” she explains, hence one of her first big hits, the artichoke and spinach empanada.

She also wasn’t sure what the demand would be. Her first day open, she made thirty empanadas and sold out in an hour.

“I closed for four days after first opening to figure out how to do this right,” she explains. Now, on a slow day, Empanada Mama sells 200 empanadas. On a busy day, 600 or more.

Empanada pre-bake; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama
Empanada pre-bake. Photo courtesy of Empanada Mama

Sleep? Who needs sleep?

How does Bajek handle this? Well, she doesn’t get a lot of sleep. She’s up at 6 am and at the store by 6:15 (she lives nearby).

First she makes the fillings for the day’s empanadas. At 8 am she starts rolling out the dough and makes the empanadas until 10:30 am, when she finishes par-baking them (when you order, she bakes them for another 8 minutes).

Then Sophia Crescitelli, who handles the register and keeps things running smooth, posts the menu on their website and on the blackboard. The doors open at 11 am.

Empanada Mama closes at 4 pm, but Bajek is rarely out by then. At the end of the day, it’s off to the market to buy ingredients for the next day.

“I have to buy ingredients in small quantities because I don’t have a lot of fridge space here. That’s why everything is so fresh, and I can change the menu so often.” Bajek comes back to the store after 9 pm and starts prepping the fillings for the next day, often working until 11 pm or later.

empanadas ready to eat; photo courtesy of Empanada Mama
Photo courtesy of Empanada Mama

Empanada Mama’s empanadas are tasty. The pastry crust is flaky and light, with just enough thickness to hold the filling and yet still provide a satisfying chew.

But what I – and many others obviously – find most fun is the diversity of fillings. I asked Bejak where she gets her ideas from.

“I love eating out,” she explains. “I just ate Indian food and that gave me a whole bunch of new ideas.” She’ll also convert other recipes.

“The Chicken Roja is based on a pasta dish that I make. I adapted it for the empanada filling.” Bajek enjoys cooking seasonally and plans on hooking up with local farmers, like Barefoot Gardens and Hershberger Heritage Farm.

Here's how it worksHow it works

You can buy the empanadas in orders of three. Bajek was a little concerned whether folks would go for this, but once customers realized how light the empanadas are, it wasn’t a problem.

A “lunch box” includes three good-sized empanadas and the sauce of your choice ($9.25).

A half dozen comes with two sauces ($18), and a full dozen includes four sauces ($35). For the sauces, choose from Chipotle Aioli, Pesto Aioli, Kalamata Olive Aioli, Horseradish Cream Sauce or Spicy Sriracha Lime Sauce.

All the empanadas are baked to order, so call in your order or be prepared to hang out for 15-20 minutes.

Check Empanada Mama’s website for the current day’s menu and see some mouth-watering pictures on their Facebook page.

Bajek is about to sign a lease on a bigger space in Doylestown that will allow her to be open longer hours and on weekends, although when she’ll find time to breath, I’m not sure.

“Even though I’m not getting much sleep,” Bajek says, “I have never felt more satisfaction. I love introducing people to new things.”

Empanada Mama
21 Donaldson Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
PH: 215.230.3330
WEB: www.yoemama.com
Facebook: Empanada Mama

This post was updated on 2/13/15

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