Dream job With her family-run food stall, Andruly Alpala is having her cornmeal cake and eating it too
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/09/2022 (198 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Product development, sales, marketing, financing, networking. Rarely does a new venture allow for more time spent with family.
MB Food Fest
• Sunday, 12:30 to 3 p.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m.
• Fort Gibraltar, 866 Rue St. Joseph
• Tickets $40 at mbfoodfest.ca
That is, unless it’s built into the business plan.
“(I) work with my son, he’s seven years old, and my husband,” says Andruly Alpala, owner of Arepa’s House, a new Winnipeg food vendor specializing in handmade South American cornmeal cakes. “The reason I wanted to start my own business is because I wanted to share more time with them.”
Alpala, 31, is savouring every moment with her nuclear family because she knows how it feels to live without them. Born in Ecuador, she was living in Colombia in 2019 when she moved to Winnipeg alone, seeking better employment opportunities. When the pandemic hit, she was unable to reunite with her son, Emi, and husband, Jorge, for nearly two years.
“It was the hardest thing that I’ve had to do in my life,” she says. “But finally, today, we are happy together.”
These days, Emi is her sidekick at local markets, taking payments and chatting with customers until his attention inevitably wears out.
“Then he needs to go play,” Alpala says with a laugh. “But he’s so involved in this and he says he wants to do everything… I just want to teach him that anything is possible and if he has an (idea) that dream can come true.”
At first, Alpala’s dream didn’t include arepas. When she arrived in Winnipeg, the business school graduate was set on importing high-quality tea and coffee from Ecuador. She connected with the newcomer program at SEED (Supporting Employment and Economic Development) and spent seven months working on a business plan, but realized there would be too much local competition for such an endeavour. Enter arepas.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we share with people a little bit about our culture of South America?’” she says. “And since the first day… my arepas have sold out.”
Arepas are round cornmeal cakes traditionally filled with cheese and fried or grilled. Alpala also makes a chicken stuffed variety and takes special filling requests from customers.
Her favourite way to eat them is in the morning with a steaming cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
“Arepa goes perfectly with everything at any time of the day — it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner,” she says.
Arepa’s House is a family business through and through. The recipe comes from Alpala’s in-laws and has been years in development. Since launching in May of this year, she’s had to hire two people to help her make enough arepas to satisfy demand — between hand-rolling and stuffing the dough, it can take two days to make a batch of 200.
Alpala sells her product frozen or fries them up to order at the Wolseley Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the South Osborne Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays. She’s also a vendor at this weekend’s MB Food Fest event at Fort Gibraltar. The latter is an exciting opportunity for the entrepreneur who would one day like to see her arepas on grocery-store shelves.
“It’s a big opportunity,” she says. “More people can know about our product,”
Arepa’s House is one of 50 local food businesses promoting their products at the second MB Food Fest on Sunday. The inaugural event sold out in 2019 and was promptly paused amid the pandemic.
This year, with public health restrictions lifting and more independent food businesses popping up locally, it felt like the right time to revisit the concept.
“MB Food Fest is really about showcasing what is being developed in Manitoba in terms of food and beverage and emphasizing the importance of supporting these local brands,” says entrepreneur Sherry Sobey, who co-founded the event with chef Shawn Brandson.
“It’s quite amazing how many new vendors applied this year, I think that during these last two years there was a lot of stuff brewing.”
The event takes place inside the fort walls and central cabin at Fort Gibraltar. Ticketholders can tour the vendor stalls for food and drink samples and shopping. The festival also includes a poutine bar and culinary competition with attendees invited to taste-test and vote for their favourite dishes from local chefs. Tickets are $40 with two time slots available.
“That way we can spread it out,” Sobey says. “We wanted to still be mindful of everybody being able to have some space and (the grounds) not be so congested.”
Visit mbfoodfest.ca for a full list of vendors and to purchase tickets.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.