Apr 23, 2024

Behind the Truck Doors Spotlight: Yapa Artisan Empanadas

Reporting Texas

Yapa empanada food truck at the University of Texas

Produced by Arianna Suniga, hosted by Mackenzie Sullivan

Yapa opened its food truck steps away from the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas in August 2023.

The black-and-white food truck serves nine varieties of artisan empanadas Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Raul Escobar, the director of operations and business development behind Yapa, talked with us about . Escobar immigrated to the U.S. from Santiago Chile and joined the truck last February with his years of experience in hospitality and food sales.

“One of the things that we want to do is to make the empanada a regular menu item for anybody that lives in the U. S…like a pizza or a burger or a taco,” Escobar said. “Being at UT is great because if young students are eating empanadas and becoming fans of empanadas, they’re going to continue loving them when they’re in their 30s [and] 40s.”

The restaurant’s owner, Polo Valdez, also immigrated from Chile starting the truck after missing flavors from home. Valdez started Yapas in 2013 at a farmers market in San Antonio and has since grown it to seven farmers markets and three food trucks in Austin over the past 10 years. They expanded to UT specifically, looking for a solution to sell during weekdays. Now being in the heart of campus, Yapa’s can expose students to a new cultural food turning first-time empanada tryers into regulars.

Empanadas originally came to Latin America from Spain and every country in Latin America has its own style of it. While Valdez started with his roots with the traditional Chilean empanada, the Conquistador, they’ve expanded to other recipes and cultural influences.

“We have put recipes from all over the world into our Chilean empanada dough and baked in the procedures… so that we can not only promote our Latin American culture but invite all the other cultures in to come,” Escobar said.

They play around with flavors adapting to Texas tastebuds such as with their Texas brisket and BBQ Come y Calla marked with a star as well as a South Asian Chana Masala filling. Austinite Sebastian Francois Jaimes and his parents are the chefs behind these recipes joining the team in 2019. His dad, the chef, is from Dijon France, and attended cooking school in Spain while his mom, the sou chef, cooked growing up in Mexico City. They met at their former catering company and have been working together for 30 years.

“My personal favorite would probably be the Al Pastor, that one’s a marinated pork with pineapple, onion and cilantro,” Jaimes said. “That’s my mom’s recipe, [it] came down from my grandma.”

They cook the empanadas in their commercial kitchen in South Congress and simply finish cooking and heating them in their display case at the actual truck. It’s convenient for the dozens of students bustling in and out of the PCL finishing deadlines and rushing to classes.

“We’re happy to give out food fast, no wait,” Jaimes said. “As soon as you’re done clicking the tablet it’s in your hands,” Jaimes said.

For six hours a day, Monday-Wednesday Ricardo Venegas sells up to 100-120 of the $7 doughy delectables to the UT community on a good day, equivalent to around $800. Venegas started working at Yapas in 2016 after meeting Valdez back in Chile and joined the UT truck last fall. He said their goal is to bring back memories and connect them with their culture through food.

“That’s what happened to me with the Conquistadora [empanada] because I’m from Chile,” Venegas said. “Every time that I eat an empanada from the Conquistador, I remember my country. And when I talk with people that love the chana masala, they say this is something I can eat in India.”

Outside of UT, Yapa’s has other truck locations on Rainey and East Sixth streets. Next on their list is to have a restaurant storefront, potentially on Guadalupe Street. Their ultimate goal is to get everybody in every single state to be able to eat empanadas to continue their mission of “Love People, Feed Empanadas.”