Maria Empanada gets $3.5 million from Colorado Impact Fund

With just $300 to her name, Lorena Cantarovici came to Denver from Argentina and got to work making empanadas she sold out of her garage.

Lorena Cantarovici inside the kitchen at Maria Empanada for a Food Network segment.
Lorena Cantarovici inside the kitchen at Maria Empanada for a Food Network segment.
Lorena Cantarovici inside the kitchen at Maria Empanada for a Food Network segment.

With just $300 to her name, Lorena Cantarovici came to Denver from Argentina and got to work making empanadas she sold out of her garage.

Four years later, Cantarovici and her business, Maria Empanada, are getting a $3.5 million boost in Series A funding from the Colorado Impact Fund.

“This means a lot, of course,” Cantarovici said. “One of the things is — I started the business with nothing, buying everything used, things like that. The investment will allow us to undergo an expansion, and we’ll be upgrading our kitchens to expand our brand, and, of course, the idea is to continue with the quality of the product.”

Cantarovici and her empanadas have seen a lot of success in just four years. She and Maria Empanada were featured on a Food Network segment with Guy Fieri, and Zagat called Maria Empanada “one of the 12 hottest new bakeries in America.” In 2017, she was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Colorado Small Business Person of the Year.

“I think the most rewarding part of the business is when I receive compliments from customers. That’s number one,” she said. “In the beginning, my empanada, almost nobody knew what it is. Then, of course, going to another level, having the recognition of the SBA as a Small Business Person of the Year — that is something I could not believe. That is something that still gives me goosebumps.”

There are already three locations of Maria Empanada — one at South Broadway and Louisiana, one in Stanley Marketplace and one at Belleview Promenade — and the $3.5 million from CIF means more to come.

“Lorena Cantarovici is emblematic of the type of entrepreneur CIF supports,” Grace Oliva of the Colorado Impact Fund said in a release. “We have been incredibly impressed by Lorena’s ability to develop an on-trend, differentiated and highly scalable craft casual concept. CIF is excited to partner with a talented and dynamic female entrepreneur. Supporting female and minority-led businesses that have the potential for high growth and profitability is central to CIF’s mission.”

Cantarovici chalks up this latest success to careful planning and documentation at every step of building and expanding her business — something she says every small business owner needs to be diligent about.

Up next: a fourth location.

“We’ll be selecting places (for expansion) that feel right for us,” Cantarovici said. “We always look for places that are cool. Our last addition was the Stanley Marketplace. When I went there, it was cool. That’s what I want Maria Empanada to be.”

Ashley Dean

Author: Ashley Dean

Ashley Dean covers culture and other odds and ends. She previously covered music and did some copy editing for the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera. She's from New York, likes her bourbon straight and has strong opinions about Kanye West. She can be reached at adean@denverite.com, 303-502-2804 or @AshleyDean.