There is a newer food service for colorful arepa meal sets. Co-owners Anissa del Rosario Schiek and Jose Tomas Garcia launched Arepa Dealers ATX earlier this year to share the Venezuelan corn bread dish with the city.
The couple thought it made sense to focus on Arepas for their business, which originally started as a pop-up and switched to pickup and delivery kits due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “In the US,” says Schiek, “people eat at a fast pace,” which indicates the popularity of tacos and sandwiches. Their arepas are made according to their families’ recipes: Garcia is Venezuelan and Schiek is a Filipino who grew up in Wisconsin.
Garcia sees the dish as a means of “bringing flavors together”. He says, “We want to turn any recipe you like into an arepa. Arepa Dealers offers three main arepa kits: The pachamama is the vegetarian option made from mushrooms, a goat cheese spread, and sundried tomatoes (it can also be made vegan). The mechada uses a classic Venezuelan beef recipe. and the Carnitas is more Filipino and is based on Schiek’s grandmother’s Adobo recipe (she describes it as “Banh Mi Arepa”). Another nod to Schiek’s legacy, the store also sells Puto Filipino, a sweet Filipino steamed rice cake.
To make Arepa Dealers’ colorful gluten-free breads, they add vegetable juices to the traditional batter mix. They use carrots for the orange, beets for the red, and Thai basil or green.
Anissa del Rosario Schiek and Jose Tomas Garcia are serving at a Frida Friday event earlier this year [Official]
“At the moment, many Venezuelans are leaving because of political problems,” says Garcia. Austin has a growing community that is primarily concentrated in the Round Rock and Pflugerville areas. This leads to the opening of Venezuelan truck and food companies that are more traditional. “It’s really hard to recreate what you left behind,” he says, “because the conditions, geography, ingredients and everything are different.” But it’s done well, and he calls places like the East Sixth Truck Pepitos 512, the South Austin Truck Reina Pepiada, the Tequeños Business TQ.Much, and the delivery service Pastelitos de la Nonna.
Arepa dealers started as a pop-up in January 2020, but Garcia and Schiek’s foray into arepa manufacturing began long before that. The couple met in Madrid, where they started selling arepas to make money while the country was grappling with a major economic crisis. They moved to America soon after 2014.
In Austin, they hosted pop-ups at places like the Coconut Club in downtown Austin, the gender and economic justice movement Frida Fridays, and various art galleries (Garcia is an artist himself). They were preparing for a busy season in the South to the Southwest that would have been their first. But then the novel coronavirus threat turned into an outbreak and then a pandemic, and all of its events were canceled.
The arepas made from carrots, beets and Thai basil from Arepa dealers Arepa dealers [Official]
“We went through the same transition as the rest of the world,” says Garcia. Because of this, they decided to stop the pop-ups and switch to to-go meal sets instead. They chose to serve what they call “survival” meal kits. “We saw how everything changed,” says Schiek. “So we expected, okay, if all of these things are set up to reduce gatherings, people won’t be able to eat out.” People didn’t go to restaurants, they restricted their grocery travel. The kits were suitable for multiple meals or for people who wanted to share food with others and arrived with bread, fillings, side dishes and sauces in servings of three, six or twelve.
The two also had to rethink the recipes. “We had to change the structure of our food,” says Garcia, in order to create longer-lasting food during these take-out times while ensuring quality. For example, the popular avocado chicken salad dish is no longer viable as they cannot precisely control when people eat the arepas and preserve the freshness of the fruit.
While the couple continues to sell their Arepa kits, other plans are in the works as well. “Since things are so unpredictable,” says Schiek, “it is better for us to have several projects that generate a certain income.” Soon they will be opening a stall at the Texas Farmers Market in Mueller on Sundays from the end of October. The meal sets and ready-made breakfast arepas are on deck.
After all, they also want to try to get internships in supermarkets and grocery stores. Before they can get involved, however, they need to expand their cooking process (larger space, more equipment, staff). To this end, they applied for funding through a local angel investor network. They also want to offer goods. Down below, they’d like to open a physical restaurant at some point.
Currently, Arepa food deliveries are available from Arepa vendors through their website, which is done by the couple themselves on scheduled days. There are also pickups and DoorDash deliveries via the Austin-based Hotplate ordering platform.