Empanada Mama is the winner of the Best Place to Eat category in the W42ST Best of Awards 2020. Our virtual awards are taking place this week. Thanks to the sponsor Wells Fargo, which was represented at the presentation by W42nd St branch manager, Brittany Morrisey, and Ryan Hong, marketing program manager.
Congratulations to the runners up:
Read Socrates Nana’s story below about Empanada Mama (interview from March 2020 – before COVID).
The rise, fall, and rise again of Hell’s Kitchen’s favorite restaurant
Anyone who was in New York at the time will remember the Great Fire of 2015 – which wiped out Empanada Mama and deprived the good citizens of Hell’s Kitchen of their favorite Latin snack.
“That was tough,” says Socrates Nana. “Thank God I’m a saver. I grew up working – my parents are Greek immigrants and we had a small business in the city called Aphrodite Cleaners, so I was working there since I was ten – my father was a slave driver.”
Brought up in Jackson Heights, Queens, the little Greek boy was best friends with a little Columbian kid. Every day after school, they’d go to that kids’ dad’s restaurant and slice open steaming, hot empanadas to customize the fillings.
“They only had beef and chicken,” says Socrates, “so we would cut them open and stuff cheese in there or whatever. It was basically a hot pocket. Then, years later, we had the idea to open up an empanada store and provide different empanadas.”
That dream was realized in 2005, when Empanada Mama opened on 9th Ave, serving up around 50 alternatives to the traditional turnover. “Obviously we have the Greek spinach pie – that’s my mom’s recipe,” he says, “and the Polish [Polish sausage with sauerkraut and mustard] – my wife’s Polish. And we invented a whole lot ourselves, like cheesesteak.”
It was a magical combination that captured the hearts (and stomachs) of Hell’s Kitchen. So, when the restaurant reopened in 2017 – bigger, bolder, and on the same block as before – they flooded back.
“I love that,” says Socrates. “There’s nothing like it. I’m a New Yorker – I grew up in this town, and I love that I was able to continue working in Manhattan.”
The empire is now growing, with a new place open on W40th St – 7th/8th Ave. “We’re actually trying to franchise. So we wanted to slim the menu down and offer a few items done a few different ways. So we’re going to have a small menu, about 10 to 15 empanadas. We’re going to have loaded yucca fries, and we’re also going to be doing churros loaded as well.”
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