As long as she can remember, Yaya Lander has been passionate about food.
“When I’m cooking, there are always dozens of cookbooks next to me,” said the Venezuela-born foodie of Spanish descent. “In Caracas, I had a delicatessen. It was my dream to have my own business again in the United States.”
When Lander and her family moved here 14 years ago, her children were young and she lacked the time and resources to commit to starting a business. A few years ago, however, she started sharing her empanadas with friends, many of whom are also from South America where the tasty stuffed pastries are a popular staple.
“I asked them for feedback and took notes,” said Lander, whose culinary curiosity once led her to take a course at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu while vacationing in France. “Pretty soon, I was filling the empanadas with a variety of flavors and selling them to Tony’s Market.”
The frozen, ready-to-bake empanadas come in four popular fillings: beef, green olives and raisins; pork, corn, and green chile; sausage, cheese and potato; and guava and cream cheese. Yaya also sells them at Vail’s farmers market, as well at different outdoor events like The Colorado Wine and Peach Festivals.
In 2009, Lander added arepas to her authentic cookery. The bread-like, gluten-free treat made of corn flour piqued the interest of a buyer for Whole Foods.
“I’m selling in nine Whole Foods locations,” Lander said. “Arepas are a traditional food in Venezuela and Colombia, but not in America. So, from Boulder to Belmar to Colorado Springs, I give demos to promote them.”
Along the way, Lander heard about the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center where counselor Jim Olp has guided her through different financial matters.
“Rosy McDonough has been a positive support in this area; also, Caroline Hanna in minority certifications. They are very knowledgeable and have given me wonderful ideas that I have implemented in improving my business,” she said.
“My husband is my moral support, the SBDC is my business support,” explained Lander. “The Denver Metro SBDC helped me to develop a business plan for La Empanada Gourmet, improve my marketing and learn about entrepreneurship. I am grateful that they offer consultations without a cost and also short courses by paying a small fee. They contain a lot of useful information for any type of business.”
Lander anticipates she will double her sales this year over last year.
“Sometimes I get tired, but I don’t give up,” she said. “I am patient, I keep trying and I persevere.”