At the newly opened Empanada Company in South Fayette, it’s a family affair

Nick and Lucas Ahualli have been eating their mother’s empanadas for years — “ever since we were little kids,” Nick, now 20, recalled. A particular treat was when Cristina Miller would make the Argentinian hand pies on half-school days, he said.

Little did the Ahualli brothers know that they’d one day be consuming empanadas in a professional capacity, as testers for the versions that would eventually find their way to the family’s just-opened Empanada Company in South Fayette.

The restaurant had been a dream for years, Miller said, one that started its path to reality about three years ago. Fast-forward through the trials she and husband, Federico Ahualli, went through in finding a location, hiring contractors and navigating COVID-related delays. The family was finally able to gather Thursday with 30 or so friends and community representatives for an official ribbon cutting at the space just outside of Bridgeville.

Fillings include ground beef, barbecue pork and chicken.
(Alicia Chiang/Post-Gazette)

“We are really happy here. It’s our home,” Federico Ahualli told the crowd, explaining that he and Miller, both natives of Argentina, arrived in the Pittsburgh area in July 2003, and soon enough found themselves drawn to South Fayette. Ahualli, an electrical engineer, had been transferred to Western Pennsylvania by VAI (later bought by Siemens). Miller, a pharmacist in her home country, worked as a pharmacy technician here, but wanted to open her own business.

During the pandemic, Ahualli, founder and CEO of locally based companies Australtek and 4i Platform Inc., said, “Cristina was of course cooking and cooking and cooking.”

“And the boys said, ‘No more empanadas!,’” Miller interjected, to laughter.

Cristina Miller does the honors at the official ribbon cutting at Empanada Company on June 2.
(Alicia Chiang/Post-Gazette)

Starting with her mother’s empanada recipe, Miller said she went through at least 20 recipes before getting the dough just right. Argentinian empanadas are crafted with a thin flour exterior (as opposed to, say, the masa-based shell of their Venezuelan counterparts), which simultaneously has to hold up to the filling while not overpowering it. From there, and with her home-bound testers, Miller developed fillings, landing on an initial roster of traditional seasoned ground beef (Nick’s favorite), barbecue pork (15-year-old Lucas’ go-to), chicken and sweet corn joining less common options of tuna and ham and cheese. A vegan dough encompasses meat- and dairy-free selections, including sweet potato and bean.

Available baked or fried, the empanadas can be enjoyed fresh and hot in the restaurant, or customers can purchase them frozen, to heat and eat at home. Also on the menu: a hearty lentil stew with bacon and sausage, and the sweet Tortas Fritas, fried dough with sugar and syrup.

Empanada Company has been a family affair from the beginning, with Nick, who’s studying mechanical engineering at Pitt, and Lucas, a freshman at South Fayette High School, helping with everything from renovating the space (for many years, home to The Wheel Bar & Lounge) to setting up social accounts.

“They really spent a lot of time during weekends, a lot of time after school, helping,” Ahualli said, thanking his sons. Dressed in black Empanada Company polos marked by the adorable logo designed by their father, both Nick and Lucas Ahualli plan to continue working at the business. And eating empanadas.

“This is very exciting for me personally,” Gwen A. Rodi, president of South Fayette Township Board of Commissioners, told the crowd. “What better people than our own residents of South Fayette to open a business, right here in the community?”

Empanada Company: 3058 Washington Pike, South Fayette; empanadacompany.com