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Elisa Milan, affectionately known as The Empanada Lady, is a self-proclaimed foodie, celebrated entrepreneur, and curator of Puerto-Rican culture. Born in California, and raised in New York by way of Baltimore, Elisa is the owner of The Empanada Lady, a boutique cafe located within Motor House in Baltimore City.
The Empanada lady is known locally for selling traditional Puerto Rican Empanadas and a rotating selection of sides and seasonal drinks, such as Coquito. These delicious hand-crafted Empanadas (authentically called pastelillo) are a family staple recipe, passed down from Elisa’s maternal grandmother, a Puerto-Rican native or 'Mama' as her loved ones would call her. Some of Elisa’s earliest memories were of sitting at a table in Mama’s kitchen alongside aunties and cousins. Her feet barely touching the floor, she would precariously roll pastelillos under Mama's watchful eye, practicing the techniques passed down in their family for generations.
During winter 2016, a then 24-year-old Elisa was working in the healthcare industry while raising her son Nard. In the spirit of collaboration + collective engagement, she was hired as an assistant at a boutique yoga studio in downtown Baltimore. There, she created "Elisa's Empanadas" with a boricua essence that was picked-up by a little girl in her grandmothers’ kitchen. That same essence ignited a spark in this west Baltimore community that was shared through these hand rolled 'Nadas' during pop ups and other events.
As word of good foods spread quickly, these Empanadas became a cult favorite in the Baltimore area, everyone was looking for "The Empanada Lady”. Keeping to the same precarious attention to detail that Mama taught her, Elisa transformed what she initially considered a passion project, taking the community's love to heart, turned it into purpose & became intentional in being 'The Empanada Lady'. In 2019 Elisa took a leap of faith and left her career to become a full-time entrepreneur.
By 2021, The Empanada Lady had outgrown Elisa’s kitchen. She found a new home at Motor House, a multi-use creative hub in Baltimore’s Charles Village Arts district with a full commercial kitchen and dining area. Running a brick-and-mortar space post-pandemic came with many challenges, but The Empanada Lady has continued to flourish. The Empanada Lady’s popular authentic holiday Coquito made the cover of the Baltimore Sun in November 2021.
Consistency was key for Elisa, this notion evolved into Nada Average Tuesday, a monthly mixer hosted by Elisa, draws upwards of 200 people, and the varying themes (June was a drag brunch) highlighting matters that are dear to Elisa's heart. Whether she's opening the doors of the restaurant to 90 gospel, losing a game of uno to her guests, or two stepp'n to hustler music, be sure she's getting to it.
As her brand recognition and awareness grows, Elisa has been approached by local news stations WBAL & WJZ to be featured for cooking demonstrations. An interactive cooking class offered at Our Time Kitchen has unlocked a new passion-teaching. Remaining rooted in the spirit of community, collaboration, and collective engagement, Elisa’s vision for The Empanada Lady empire includes classes, workshops, additional locations, distribution deals, and national levels.
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