Necessity is the mother of invention goes the saying. And mothers know what’s necessary. Especially when they’re pregnant. And stuck on bed rest. And craving a taste of home.
This was the case in 2017, when Kissimmee resident Maria Jose Navarrete, far from her hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela, could not find the snack she so longed for.
“I just wanted to eat pastelitos!” she says, laughing. “I went on Instagram to maybe find a store that would have them.”
But she did come away with an idea that became her business: Pastelitos Chips.
She began to create the favorites from home — pastelitos, tequeños, empanadas and quite a bit more — selling them via Instagram. She shared posts of the homemade goodies every day, each filled with savory fillings of meats, cheeses, vegetables. Sometimes all three.
“It went like a snowball and everybody started to find us,” says Navarrete, who eventually opened up a tiny, cute shop in a tiny, brick strip center just off the whizzing traffic of Vine St. I’m not kidding about the tiny part. Only two people are permitted inside at once in the age of COVID-19 (and if you’re visiting with a friend, I’d suggest going in one at a time — it’s small).
If you’re visiting solo and you’re lucky, Julie will be the one keeping you company inside. She’s been with Pastelitos Chips since it was a home business, and was a great help in navigating the extensive menu of treats and fillings, the latter of which range from simple ground, seasoned beef or shredded chicken to addictive papa con queso (potato cheese) or the insanely tasty taqueyoyos, which merge bananas, queso blanco and ham.
Tequeños, says Navarrete, are the most popular snack for parties at home. “You put the green sauce on them and it’s so good!” Indeed. The parsley-laden condiment is a tasty accompaniment, though they really don’t need one. Tequeños are less greasy than you might think. Pull them from the fryer and the oil almost seems to evaporate from the homemade dough.
Each looks beautiful, as though from a factory. And though small, the business sort of operates like one.
You see, Pastelitos Chips does serve its food fresh to-go — you can come in and order a la carte or choose a lunch special — but the bulk of the business is just that: bulk. Customers come and go briskly, collecting boxes of frozen items to take home. Not surprisingly, her business model proved extremely successful amid the pandemic. She actually expanded her staff since the outbreak.
Speaking of, if you’re among those not ready to venture out and looking for a new addictive snack to cook up for the family, Pastelitos Chips' many offerings may be tempting. Its wares, filled ground beef, ham and cheese, plantain and more come in an array of “wraps,” flour to white corn to yellow corn, which adds a punch of sweetness to whatever it’s concealing inside.
They’re also ideal for parties. Navarrete’s menu includes a few boxes you can purchase for just such occasions, but really they’d be just as suitable to stick in the freezer, where you can visit and revisit each time your own cravings arise (or serve all at once if you have a big family and are looking for something fast, fried and easy).
My favorites, mostly, were the flour options — I loved how not-greasy they were for something literally deep-fried — and that made the fillings shine. My youngest child and I found ourselves with cravings of our own for the shredded chicken.
Unfamiliar? Much of the menu was new to me, too. The staff was patient, friendly, welcoming.
Navarette was not a chef, or even an avid cook when she moved to the States in 2015. She was a doctor. Well, almost. In 2015, she graduated with a degree in general medicine from Venezuela’s Universidad del Zulia.
“I still need to go a few years more to do a specialty, like cardiology,” says the mother of two. “But right now, I have a passion for the kitchen and I’m going to concentrate on my business. I love what I do.”
Pastelitos Chips: 1417 Smith St. in Kissimmee; 407-530-5353 or facebook.com/pastelitoschips/
Want to reach out? Find me on Twitter or Instagram @amydroo or on the OSFoodie Instagram account @orlando.foodie. Email: email@example.com. Join the conversation at the Orlando Sentinel’s new Facebook Forum, Let’s Eat, Orlando.
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