Restaurateur looks to make empanadas fashionable

Jason Alicea in front of the logo for his new restaurant Empanology. Photo by Barbara Prempeh

With fast-moving hands and précise movements, Jason Alicea can be found chopping onions with a hint of cabbage and carrots for the “BX Slaw Empanada,” one of about 40 recipes on the menu of his new Mott Haven eatery Empanology.

After spearheading several pop-up shops around the city, the Bronx native Alicea and his wife and co-founder Ruby found it most fitting to keep the culture and food alive in the borough he calls home.

Over the last few years, the restaurant industry in the South Bronx has seen an increase in coffee shops and American-styled cuisine as Bronx-owned businesses aim to preserve their authentic flavor while keeping up with new, upscale housing developments. Along with other homegrown businesses like Bronx Native, Port Morris Distillery and Elements Church, Empanalogy is looking to keep up with all the head-spinning changes without losing their distinct local flavor, at its storefront at 2407 Third Avenue. 

“Working to take back the Bronx is exactly what we plan to do,” said Amaurys Grullon, the co-founder of Bronx Native, a clothing line designed to honor area roots. “I am a big advocate of entrepreneurship and local businesses and having spots like this open up that are here to serve us is what we need.”

At the age of 5, Alicea experimented preparing the famous Latin American finger food. That led him to decide to open “Empanology,” offering varied recipes like “La Cubanita” to “The OG Chopped Cheese.”

For Alicea, empanadas are pockets that symbolize the love that brings family together no matter the occasion. “I first learned how to make empanadas from my grandmother and then my mother, since then I just began to play around with dough and added any ingredients I could find,” said Alicea.

After taking an interest in studying empanadas, Alicea found the idea of changing the Puerto Rican recipe with a modern spin. Unlike neighboring food cuisines, which serves fancy dishes, Empanology aims to maintain its comfort food to its growing Latino population.Seventy-two percent of Mott Haven and Melrose residents are Hispanic according to New York City Community Health Profile.

“Growing up it was hard for you to find genuine food places to go and I believe we’ve established that,” said the eatery’s manager Danny Chaparo.

Empanology, which is leased by the development company Somerset Partners, emits a Latin vibe between its concrete walls, filled with images of the Puerto Rican flag and instruments such as the congas and maracas providing a Caribbean feel.

“When I started eating them I told myself we are going to need more of that. It’s the food we grew up on and I think it’s important to have a place like this here,” said longtime Mott Haven resident Mayrsol Ortiz.

Jason Alicea says he hopes his new venture will be an inspiration to the community.

“Speaking from experience, I want to serve people who look just like me. I know the need of the community and I plan to strive to give them just that and more,” said the Empanologist.