SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Kenny’s Empanadas, the family business of Ken and Debbie Santos celebrated its official grand opening on Saturday, February 25, 2017 at a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1020 Belmont Ave. Mayor Matthew P. Anesh, Council President Derryck C. White, and council members Christine Faustini, Gary Vesce, and Joseph C. Wolak were all in attendance along with town CFO Glenn Cullen.
Customers walking into Kenny’s Empanadas can expect “the freshest, most delicious empanadas you’re ever going to find,” said Ken. “We never freeze our empanadas, they’re always fresh and we make our ingredients fresh each day.”
Santos, who is of Portuguese ancestry, is excited to introduce this unique Latin cuisine to South Plainfield. “Empanar basically means ‘to bread.’ Anything you can think of-- like an Italian calzone or samosas-- that you can wrap in dough and then bake it or fry it, that’s basically an empanada,” he said. “Whatever the ingredients are, whether its meat, rice or vegetables, you wrap it up, fry it or bake it and you’re all set.”
Ken says he got into the business by way of a family tradition. “My mother always made chicken and rice empanadas during the holidays and she’s 92 years old now so she can’t make them anymore…it’s a lot of work and very labor intensive,” Santos said. “So, a few years ago I started making them at home just to kind of keep the tradition going for my daughters and one thing led to another.”
All the menu items are from family recipes. “Recipes we used at home for years and years and years,” Santos said.
Santos is a resident of nearby Colonia but was drawn to South Plainfield as the location for his first brick and mortar shop by way of his brother. “My brother lives here in South Plainfield and he’s lived here for about 30 years and my mother also lives with him in his house, so we’ve kind of always been second-residents of South Plainfield.”
Ken and Debbie, along with their daughters had been traveling the New Jersey area for food truck and street fair events the last several years before opening their first store. They urged customers to keep their eyes peeled to their various social media accounts for news of when they will be traveling to such events, in their eye-popping bright yellow, red and green truck, in the future. Santos said they have already been invited to an event scheduled in town in June to help the EMT fundraise for new emergency services vehicles.
Mayor Anesh and Council President White like what Kenny’s can bring to the South Plainfield community. “When you talk about small businesses like this, one of the things we like to see and one of the reasons why I’m excited about Kenny’s is that it’s a different type of business,” said Anesh. “We have a number of pharmacies and hair stylists and pizza places and that’s great, choice is always good, but what we’ve seen in the downtown with some of the new restaurants that are coming through and with Kenny’s today is you see a mix. That’s good for Kenny’s and it’s good for the community. It gives the residents and people working throughout the week a lot more opportunities and a lot more variety,” he said.
“We wish Kenny the best, I love empanadas and he seems like a great guy, and so we’re excited.”
Council President White followed up on the mayor’s thoughts. “Speaking with Kenny this was a great opportunity for him to move from his mobile business into a brick and mortar business. This was his first choice. The space fit him very, very well. A lot of the things he needed were already in place so he didn’t need to do a lot of work, there weren’t a lot of startup costs and this was a nice fit for him.” White said.
“And that’s what we try to look at. When we have a space we try to retrofit it to a business that can meet its needs. We try to work with them and transition them into the borough, and then we feel it’s really important for us to make sure they’re successful when they get here and that they can remain,” said White. “Bringing in new businesses is great but if they can’t be sustained here then that’s not going to be helpful to the borough or to us, so we try to do what we can to make sure they’re successful and this grand opening and ribbon cutting is actually one of those times where we put ourselves out to ensure that the residents understand that we’re here in full support of these businesses.”
Council President White and Councilwoman Faustini not only loved the delicious empanadas but also got into the act, by donning aprons and making some empanadas from scratch with a little help from Kenny: