“We would sell empanadas like Girl Scout cookies—just standing there,” Diego Montero says of the early days of DelSur Empanadas.
A 21-year resident of Minnesota, he still has vivid memories of the Argentinian flavors he enjoyed growing up, and the family-owned restaurant in which he had worked back home. He learned the American language and culture quickly, but was frustrated at the lack of ethnic diversity in the local food scene.
While he established a career in business development at Cargill, he kept in the back of his mind a dream of launching his own business—doing something completely different. “It was just Mexican and Italian food in the Twin Cities, it seemed. I always wanted to do something with food from Argentina,” he says. When he was introduced to fellow Argentinian Nicolas “Nico” Nikolov by a mutual friend, the topic of their shared culinary heritage quickly came up.
Then Nikolov casually mentioned that he had gone to culinary school, and the wheels started turning—literally and figuratively. In 2014, they launched a website and Facebook page dedicated to empanadas, the quintessential Argentinian comfort food, which come in a variety of flavors and can be eaten with a fork or in-hand, on-the-go. They sold them to friends and family at first—many of them ex-pats from Argentina who missed the same flavors they did—making dough by hand in a rented kitchen space in Minneapolis. Then it was pop-up sales at Insight Brewery, selling empanadas to go with people’s pints of beer, but still relying on hand-made batches of 100. It was a labor of love and a lot of fun, but as a business venture, “it was incredibly unsustainable,” says Montero.
A family member pointed out the popularity of food trucks in the area and asked them one day, point-blank, “What are you guys waiting for?” So while holding down full-time jobs and doing their occasional events, they began stockpiling equipment for a food truck. They got that rolling in 2016, fleshing out a menu that included a handful—literally—of empanada flavors, including barbecue chicken, caprese, spinach, ham and cheese, and sweet corn. There were also lomitos—Argentinian sandwiches made with sliced steak or “choripan,” with homemade chorizo. Their following grew, and pretty soon patrons were seeking them out, waiting for morning social media posts revealing the black truck’s parking spot for the day. But at that point, Montero and Nikolov were still full-time employees elsewhere, teetering on the edge of making it a full-time gig.
When they came across an empty restaurant space in Minnetonka—a space that had been a Dunn Brothers, a Brazilian restaurant and Glen Lake Café before sitting empty for four years—they jumped on it.
“The whole strip mall was kind of dead, until Unmapped Brewing opened next door in 2017,” says Montero, who realized the shift in momentum at the spot. Building on their success with breweries—which often don’t have kitchens—the space could work to DelSur’s advantage, with the two businesses working symbiotically.
Montero quit his day job, Nikolov delegated his construction work to his employees and they began leasing the space in March 2018, using it as a home kitchen for the food truck as they laid plans to open a brick-and-mortar to further their growing brand. They added clean, industrial furnishings with simple metal chairs. Tile, brick, natural wood and fresh plants round out the experience, which is laid-back and fun—still food-truck-ish in its presentation. On the menu, you’ll see 10 core empanada flavors, with a handful of others that make seasonal appearances.
“Every culture has something they wrap in dough! And every country in Latin America does an empanada,” Montero says of their comfort food with a twist. Since they opened officially in November, they’ve loved watching positive reviews and comments pour in online, and seeing people come back and bring friends. “We love sharing something people love. An empanada is always warm and ready to go. It doesn’t need much explaining,” he says.
Montero gets serious when describing the perfect empanada, and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into perfecting the recipe. In Argentina, he says, the hot pockets come baked or fried—often sold from trucks or street vendors as quick meals—but in homes, they’re always baked. So that’s what they went with at DelSur, both to keep things lighter but also to conjure up the home-cooked flavor of Argentina.
In an ideal empanada, “making the dough from scratch makes a huge difference,” Montero says. There are many commercial brands of dough available out there, but he and Nikolov keep things fresh and authentic. They added two sauces to the menu—a spicy sour cream and a chimichurri—to appease their American guests. But other than that, there’s no deviating from what they remember. “I’m going to have an Argentinian place, it’s going to be traditional. I like my food to be as authentic as possible. And if I don’t like it, I can’t sell it,” he says.