An Ecuador native who owns a popular local food truck is planning to open a restaurant featuring empanadas, arepas and more in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood.
The new restaurant is aiming to make its debut between mid-December and early January, pending license approvals.
Tejada is working on the menu. It will feature favorites from his food truck, including empanadas, Colombian-style arepas, tamales and other South American dishes.
Both Tejada's empanadas and arepas — made from scratch — include either beef, pork, chicken or a vegetarian option.
Empanadas offer "endless opportunities," Tejada said. His are inspired by both traditional recipes and what locals enjoy.
The restaurant will also offer rotating seasonal empanadas, as well as gluten-free options.
While Tejada described his own arepa recipe as more traditional, he said his presentation has a unique twist. His food truck's menu describes the arepas as sweet corn cakes with cheese that include slaw, pickled onions, cilantro, aioli and the patron's choice of protein.
Specials will also be offered. "It's important to keep people happy with new things always," Tejada said.
The restaurant's drink menu will feature South American-inspired cocktails, wine and beer.
Food carts to a food truck to a brick-and-mortar business
Tejada, who's from Quito, grew up in the food business. His family owned a French restaurant, where he started helping out at as a kid.
After finishing school, Tejada spent months traveling through South America, according to a previous Journal Sentinel report. Empanadas were a staple everywhere he went since they were budget-friendly and filling, the report said.
After moving to Milwaukee 17 years ago, Tejada said, he continued working in restaurants, from being a chef to a kitchen manager.
"I love food," Tejada said. "I think that it's one of the most important things for humans to be healthy and happy."
In 2015, he decided to start his own business: Pedro’s South American Food, an empanada food cart that would go on to add tamales.
"I felt like Milwaukee needed some more exposure to South American food," Tejada said.
Two years later, Tejada launched a second food cart; this one featured arepas.
"When I was out on the streets serving empanadas with the food cart, people were asking for the arepas," he said. "Or when I was with the arepa cart, people were asking for the empanadas."
With a food truck, he said, he was able to merge both menus, plus add more. Pedro's South American Food truck made its debut in 2020.
Tejada has taken the food truck to events across the Milwaukee area, such as the Milwaukee Night Market, the Skyline Music Series and farmers markets.
"Every time I'm out on the street, people are always asking me if we have a restaurant, a brick-and-mortar," he said.
The Riverwest Filling Station closes after nearly a decade
In a Tuesday Facebook post, The Riverwest Filling Station announced it was permanently closing after nearly a decade.
"I'm very proud of the food, drinks and my space," owner Bryan Atinsky told the Journal Sentinel. "And I'm very grateful to the customers that were loyal to us."
The restaurant's food was made from scratch, with influences spanning the globe, according to a prior Journal Sentinel report.
And you know those growlers you get filled up with your favorite brews? You may not be doing that today had Atinsky not worked with the city to change some rules to make growlers legal, the report said.
Atinsky, who owns the building, said he's happy about the new restaurant planned for it. It's "very interesting" and the food is great, he said.
Tejada liked the idea of opening his restaurant in Riverwest because it's been his home for "a very long time."
The restaurant's space is "pretty much ready to go," he said, but he plans to make some changes to its décor.
The hours for La Cocina Del Sur Empanada Bar are still being determined.
Tejada has also offered catering services for as long as his food carts have been around. He does weddings, parties, corporate lunches and other events.
Tejada plans to continue running his food truck, food carts and catering operation. In the future, he hopes to host catered events out of his restaurant.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: La Cocina Del Sur Empanada Bar planned for Milwaukee's Riverwest