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Interview with a Local: Ariel Rodriguez of La Sonrisa Empanadas!

close up of empanadas

We are so excited to introduce you to Ariel Rodriguez of La Sonrisa, a Pop-Up Empanada company selling in artisan markets and parks throughout NYC.

Their mission: We specialize in selling high quality, affordable, fast, and delicious food options.  We offer competitive wages in our industry, leadership opportunities, team building environments, and a positive work culture.  We are committed to building a team, a product, a community, and a business together.


You founded La Sonrisa in 2010. How did that come about?

Like many before me, I am an accidental business owner.  I started La Sonrisa in the summer of 2010 at the Hester Street Fair after working a lemonade stand there as a favor to my brother.  As a serial entrepreneur, I saw this unique opportunity to start a weekend food company for some extra income. Eight years later and many ups and downs, here we are!


Can you give us an idea of what you might do on a typical day?

My days start early, but they are typically pre-scheduled.  I start laying out my day around 7:30am, by 9:30 I’m dropping off Ellie (my daughter) at day care and head back to my home office (unless I’m needed in the kitchen). Our GM and I go over the daily sales goals, scheduling, deliveries, and so on. As a growing company I’m trying to continue to work on the business and less and less in the business. We’re a mobile company so there are a lot of moving parts and I try to spend my time on our growth plans while our GM now manages the day-to-day of the business.


What has been your favorite accomplishment with La Sonrisa?

This is a tough question, and it used to change often.  Sales goals were always the forefront when we started the business but really now it’s our operations & processes.  (Not exciting, but true.)


When/How do you come up with new empanada creations?

We try and add new fillings to our lineup every season.  We often try and re-create our favorite foods, childhood favorites, trending foods. The process can take weeks and most new menu ideas get nixed. The decision always comes down to operations and scalability of a new filling.


Which of your menu items could you eat forever?

The classic beef. It’s my Mom’s recipe and always reminds me of home. Coconut curry chicken comes in a very close second.


What’s your background?

Born and raised in New York City, 2 blocks from our High Line location. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur my entire life, I’ve started and failed many companies. I have no formal culinary background. I would never call myself a chef, but I’m a pretty good cook.


Do you have any plans to expand beyond empanadas?

We are an empanada company through and through, we’ve fiddled with menu changes several times and there’s nothing we do as well as our empanadas.


What’s your current favorite food to make?

Anything with 5 ingredients or less. Two nights ago I made cacio pepe using zucchini noodles instead of pasta. I’m probably going to make it again over the weekend.


What and where did you eat your favorite dish ever?

Impossible question to answer, but….coconut rice and lechon from Pig and Khao.


What’s next? 

Spending as much time with my daughter as possible and growing my company 10x.