Talk about a little empanada that could!
From its quiet beginnings in its first farmer’s market, Sergio’s Empanadas has now expanded to a real brick-and-mortar restaurant in the heart of Laguna at 977 S. Coast Highway.
Doors opened last Friday and word is already on the streets.
When Maria Ciba began crafting this fluffy pastry pocket in her La Habra bakery, she had little notion that it would become something of a rock star. Her son, Sergio, became the pied piper of this empanada in 2010 as Sergio’s Empanadas set up shop in one farmers market after another. As the freshly baked empanadas roamed from market to market, an almost food-truck-like fandom followed.
It seemed only sensible to expand its potential fandom.
From Blank Slate to Hip Restaurant
At one time, Sergio owned a 100-square-foot empanadas shack in Long Beach, but he decided that more permanent stakes would have to be made in Laguna Beach.
“I’ve been coming to Laguna Beach since I was a kid, and it was always my favorite beach,” he says. “I feel at home here.”
Indeed, Sergio has made Laguna Beach his residential home, too. And, as his popular employees continue to market the piping hot empanadas at the various farmers markets, Sergio is devoting his energies to the lovely little café here in Laguna.
After a couple years of searching for the right place, Sergio happened upon this small rectangle – and an empty rectangle it was. Equipped with only an updated bathroom at the back, the space was completely barren.
“I wanted to create a great, cool look, and I had been admiring a few places here in town that were all done by the same architect, Kirk Nelson. So, I called him and we got to work.”
Nelson and his Design Intervention team worked quickly, indeed, completely transforming the empty space to a hip environment with careful details woven throughout. Final details are still being tended to, including the addition of artwork from Laguna photographer Aga Stuchlik.
<<subhead>>Flaky, Flavorful Perfection
As the sturdy “camp” oven for the farmers markets resides proudly on its own shelf, a new, shiny oven sits directly behind the counter, turning out 100 empanadas per hour.
Trust me, this is not overkill as these empanadas seem to disappear nearly as quickly as they’re made.
Sergio’s startup menu offers three meat and four vegetarian empanadas with a mini dessert empanada stuffed with bananas and strawberries.
His best sellers? The Prosciutto Empanada is a simple (wonderful) concoction with a gooey dose of mozzarella. The Mushroom Empanada offers a savory blend of mushrooms, shallots and mozzarella. These are, indeed, flavorful, flaky wonders.
I try one more that I simply can’t resist – the Chicken Pot Pie Empanada – and it’s every bit as good as Sergio’s best sellers. Add his homemade chimichurri sauce and you’ll know why these empanadas are all-around rock stars.
In addition to restaurant and take out, Sergio’s also offers packs of 4, 8 and 12 frozen empanadas with easy “take and bake” directions for busy families and party favorites.
Expanding Menu Ahead
In the week ahead, Sergio is introducing salads– traditional lettuce, 3-bean and cucumber – for starters. As winter months approach, he will be adding baked potatoes with toppings and a variety of hot soups.
“This is going to be very customized to my Laguna Beach audience, so I’m looking forward to seeing what people are most interested in here,” he says.
It seems that most people walking in the door are interested in everything Sergio’s Empanadas has to offer. As customers pore over his simple menu and agonize their decision, Sergio smiles a simple smile. “I don’t worry about how well this restaurant is going to work or where the customers will come from. I just do my best every day and everything just falls into place.”
977 S. Coast Highway, (562) 298-0251