"We chose the name La Sonrisa because the sonrisa means smile in Spanish, and it's what we aim to do when people have our empanandas," says Lauren Chiluiza. She adds, "It also helps that empanadas look like smiles."
Chiluiza and her partner, Ariel Rodriguez, launched their empanada business at the Hester Street Fair in the summer of 2010. They moved on to a food truck, which is usually parked on Hudson Street between Columbus Drive and Second Street in Jersey City, with the ultimate goal of selling their products wholesale to grocery stores and other retailers.
They found a warehouse in Jersey City and have a Kickstarter campaign underway to help outfit it with commercial stoves, freezers, refrigerators, and other supplies. "We're almost there," Rodriguez says, "we just need a last final push." Their goal is to start producing empanadas for the wholesale market by the end of the summer.
For the most part, La Sonrisa empanadas are made from Rodriguez's mother's recipes, with a bit of tweaking. "She never used curry," he explains, which shows up in one of their most popular flavors, Coconut Curry Chicken. They use fresh, locally sourced ingredients as much as possible in their empanadas—which include pork, beef, chicken, and vegetarian fillings—and they use a light hand when cooking the vegetables, so that the zucchini, peas, and asparagus retain their flavor and texture. "We try to make food that's not just good, but good for you," says Rodriguez.