Located right here in Armature Works, Empamamas — offers a delicious and unique twist to the traditional dish Empanadas.
Stephanie Swanz, the owner of Empamamas, started making empanadas when she was 10 years old. At that time, her Aunt told her that she could put anything you want into an empanada. A few years later, she did just that for friends and family. That is when she came up with the concept, and it’s been a hit ever since then.
From their popular dish like the “Tampa Girl,” which is stuffed with Roasted Pork, Honey Ham, Genoa Salami, Swiss Cheese, Pickle & Tampa Girl Sauce, they have made a name for themselves as your “not so basic’ empanadas. They’ve even tipped their menu with dishes like “Tacos Y’all” and “Bang Bang Chicken” for customers who can’t get enough of their “Street Eats.”
Empamamas wasn’t always a full-time kitchen – they started as a food truck and eventually found their home in Armature Works, a food hall in Tampa Bay. However, they took some time to get their foot in the door.
When Swanz first got word about the new development, she decided to pitch Empamamas.
“They said our concept wasn’t a good fit at first, but we kept doing our thing and kept trucking,” says Swanz.
She didn’t let that stop her. A few months later, she got a call for Empamamas to potentially be a rotating stall at Armature Works. This time, they pitched their “Tampa Girl Empanadas,” and “it was a hit,” says Swanz.
Empamamas was officially slated to be the second rotating stall at Armature Works. Although she was grateful for the opportunity to be a rotating kitchen, she pushed to be a full-time tenant. Luckily for her, a few days after the market had opened, she got a call and was asked to move in early. She was willing to do so but still pushed to be there full-time. The landlord really wanted Tacos in the market, so as a means to make both parties happy, they agreed to add Tacos to their menu and, in turn, would be a permanent tenant. The next day they were open for business at 11 AM with only three staff members.
Swanz found Armature Works to be a great fit for a business because it is “like one big event all year long – and the building takes the element of weather out of the equation. It was a no-brainer.”
And although it may have taken a period for Empamamas to become a full-time kitchen, Stephanie “saw the vision of [the] Tampa city coming together, and I thought they were on to something; I knew it was a home run.”
Though she landed a great opportunity with Armature Works, running a business doesn’t come without its challenges.
“It’s not just one challenge you face over time in business. Over the last 6 years, [I] have had issues with [the] supply chain, Covid, Hurricanes, and more,” says Swanz.
Even with these challenges, she looks at the positive.
“It’s the best part of being a business owner,” says Swanz. “How you face the challenges and how you pivot and change.”
When being faced just recently with Hurricane Ian, “we closed on Monday and had to remove all food products off-property. Due to our close proximity to the River, we were concerned we would flood. [We] ended up losing all the food we tried to save, unfortunately, but it could have been a lot worse; we were very lucky. A few days later, we moved back in, restocked on food, and were open for business,” says Swanz.
Over the past few years, she says they were faced with many challenges, “but things that pop up make us resilient. As a business owner, you face a lot of challenges – everything happens for a reason – even if I can’t explain why something is happening, I look back and realize that’s exactly why that happened.”
With all the challenges came success, and Swanz even says they plan to grow and open another Muchachas, the sister concept to Empamamas, also located in Armature Works, in the Tampa Bay Area, in the near future.
She says she couldn’t do this without the support of her team and her friends and family.
“I’m really blessed,” says Swanz, and I am very thankful for all the people I have in my corner.”