Local empanada eatery provides fresh, flavorful on-the-go meals

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Oliver Zaruba // Contributing Photographer

Oliver Zaruba // Contributing Photographer

You haven’t truly had an empanada until you’ve had one fresh out of the oven.

At the Half Moon Empanadas commissary on Northeast 79th Street, empanadas with traditional flavors and special combinations are handmade in house. The empanadas are then promptly delivered to various outposts in the Miami area.

With three kiosks on the Coral Gables campus in the School of Business Administration, Dooley Memorial and the School of Communication, Half Moon has become a staple for on-the-go students.

UM junior Niara Hill often picks up an empanada for a portable meal. “I like them and I come here frequently,” Hill said. “The jerk chicken is my favorite.”

Sophomore Karina Pino said she’s thankful for the easily accessible, tasty snack. “It’s convenient because I can run by and grab one in between classes,” Pino said.

But not all students are big fans. Junior Nahyan Alahbabi said Half Moon could use some improvement.

“I’ve had the empanadas a couple of times and I think they could be fresher,” Alahbabi said. “I think they would be better if they were actually made here on campus.”

According to Half Moon co-founder Pilar Guzman Zavala, fresh ingredients and authenticity are priorities when it comes to her product.

“We get ingredients locally, which is one thing that I think we do differently,” Zavala said. “For example, the beef empanada is one of our best-sellers. We buy the steak locally, grind it ourselves at the commissary and bake them to be sold fresh. We make the empanadas to be sold the next day, and we don’t use any preservatives.”

Half Moon Empanadas was founded in 2008.

Guzman Zavala’s husband, Juan Zavala, came up with the idea for Half Moon and created the business with a new twist on the empanada concept.

“In addition to the traditional flavors, we have our own signature empanadas and a build-your-own option,” Guzman Zavala said. “My husband came up with the recipes after he went and trained in different bakeries in Argentina, where he is originally from.”

Their first store opened on Washington Avenue and Lincoln Road in South Beach. It took the couple eight months to open that first Half Moon, and the road wasn’t an entirely smooth one.

“It was the hardest thing because, for the longest time, we weren’t making the numbers,” Guzman Zavala said. “We thought we would get the traffic from Lincoln Road, but we never did.”

Now, fast-forward eight years, and there are eight Half Moon locations in total.

“We closed down our first location and moved out to the commissary so our numbers would align,” Guzman Zavala said. “Since then, we have expanded and business has picked up a lot.”

One location has received particularly positive feedback and high sales.

“One of the things we’re most proud of is the Miami Airport location,” Guzman Zavala said. “We’re always among the top five food locations in the airport. We even beat out Starbucks and a lot of other big guys.”

Business manager Martín Ruíz has worked at Half Moon for the past two years and said he is grateful for the owners and staff.

“When I started working here, I was just making the tapas, but they allowed me to work my way up to the position of manager,” Ruíz said. “Everyone working here is happy, and we’ve got a very strong team.”

Ruíz even contributed an innovative idea to the world of empanadas. “I used to be a pizza man,” Ruíz said. “I brought the idea of the three-cheese empanada here. It’s popular, but our best-sellers are the Cheesy Gaucho, the Mexicano and the Half Moon Special.”

For Half Moon’s owners, the business is their version of the American dream.

“I have faith that this country is what I believe it is, which is one that loves to create opportunities for people that work hard,” Guzman Zavala said.

They are highly motivated and have big expectations for the company’s future.

“We’re trying to create a new contemporary in the fast-food industry, which is empanadas,” Guzman Zavala said. “You already have pizza, the burgers and the tacos … but we want to be the leaders for the empanadas. That’s kind of the dream.”

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