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Briarcliff Empanada Maker Seeks Chain Restaurant

Juan Gutierrez has big plans for his local eatery – he dreams of turning his Briarcliff empanada shop into a chain restaurant that sells his Latin American baked delights across the country.

In Bolivia, where Juan and his wife Iris emigrated from, empanadas are eaten the same way Americans munch pizza -- as a quick and filling meal. That's why, Juan says, the couple decided to open up an empanada shop in Briarcliff.

"We wanted to bring this concept to light, to convince the public that instead of running out to get pizza or Chinese food, they can get empanadas," he said.

The Empanada House, at 1205 Pleasantville Road in Briarcliff, offers 32 types of empanadas, both savory and sweet. Recipes for the empanadas come mostly from Iris's late father, who owned a few small empanada shops in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The filled pastry is popular throughout Latin America, although favorites do vary by region.

As for the Briarcliff shop, the most popular sellers are the Beef Mendocina, filled with ground beef, green olives and roasted red peppers, and the Santa Cruz, filled with sautéed onions, green olives, potatoes and shredded chicken.

Among the most popular sweet empanadas are the Guayaba with Cheese, filled with guava paste and mozzarella cheese, and Dulce de Leche, filled with Argentinian-style caramel.

"Empanadas are already well established in the Latino community," Gutierrez said. "We feel we picked the right area because there's hardly any competition here. We're the only stand-alone empanada shop in all of Westchester."

Gutierrez's vision is to expand from his Briarcliff location into more locations throughout Westchester, and to eventually set up The Empanada House as a franchise business to be replicated all over the country.

If everything goes well, The Empanada House should have two new locations by September, Juan said, one on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains and the other on Main Street in Port Chester.

"A lot of people like it but we're still at the point where we're trying to reach out to introduce the product to a lot of people," he said. "We're not quite at the point where we can franchise it."

Gutierrez worked as an accountant before he got into the food business. He said he likes working for himself and building his template without anyone peering over his shoulder and telling him what his vision should be.

"You're your own boss," he said. "It gives you more freedom."

The Briarcliff shop is open from 12 p.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and closed on Sunday. The restaurant also caters off-site.

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