There’s a newer food service dedicated to colorful arepa meal kits. Co-owners Anissa del Rosario Schiek and Jose Tomas Garcia launched Arepa Dealers ATX earlier this year, as a way to share the Venezuelan stuffed corn bread dish with the city.
The couple thought that it made sense to focus on arepas for their business, which they originally launched as a pop-up and switched to pickup and delivery meal kits because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. “In the States,” says Schiek, “people have a fast-pace when they’re eating,” pointing to the popularity of tacos and sandwiches. Their arepas are made using recipes from their recipes from their families: Garcia is Venezuelan and Schiek is a Filipino who was raised in Wisconsin.
Garcia sees the dish as a vehicle “to bring flavors together.” He says, “We want to transform every recipe that you like into an arepa. Arepa Dealers offers three main arepa kits: the pachamama is the vegetarian option, made with mushrooms, a goat cheese spread, and sundried tomatoes (it can be made vegan too); the mechada makes use of a classic Venezuelan beef recipe; and the carnitas is more Filipino, made based on Schiek’s grandmother’s adobo recipe (she describes it like a “banh mi arepa”). As another nod to Schiek’s heritage, the shop also sells puto Filipino, a sweet Filipino steamed rice cake.
To create Arepa Dealers’s colorful gluten-free breads, they add vegetable juices to the traditional dough mix. They use carrot for the orange, beets for the red, and Thai basil or green.
“There’s a lot of Venezuelans migrating right now because of political problems,” says Garcia. In Austin, there’s a growing community, especially concentrated in the Round Rock and Pflugerville areas, resulting in the opening of Venezuelan trucks and food businesses, that tend to veer more traditional. “It’s really hard to recreate what you left behind,” he says, “because the conditions, the geography, the ingredients, everything is different.” But it’s being done well, and he shouts out places such as East Sixth truck Pepitos 512, South Austin truck Reina Pepiada, tequeños business TQ.Much, and delivery service Pastelitos de la Nonna.
Arepa Dealers started in January 2020 as a pop-up, but Garcia and Schiek’s foray into arepa-making started well before that. The couple met in Madrid, which is where they started selling arepas as a way to make money while the country was dealing with a major economic crisis. They moved to America soon after in 2014.
In Austin, they hosted pop-ups at places such as downtown Austin bar Coconut Club, gender and economic justice movement Frida Fridays, and various art galleries (Garcia is an artist himself). They were gearing up for what would’ve been a busy South by Southwest season, which would’ve been their first. But then the threat of the novel coronavirus grew into an outbreak and then into the pandemic, and all of their events were canceled.
“We were going through the same transition as the rest of the world,” says Garcia. That’s why they decided to halt the pop-ups and switch to to-go meal kits instead. They settled on serving what they call “survival” meal kits. “We saw everything changing,” says Schiek. “So we anticipated, okay, if there are all these things being put in place to reduce gatherings, people aren’t going to be able to eat out anymore.” People weren’t going out to restaurants, they were limiting their grocery store trips. The kits worked for multiple meals or for people who wanted to share food with others, arriving with the breads, fillings, garnishes, and sauces, in servings of three, six, or 12.
Likewise, the two had to rethink the recipes too. “We had to change the structure of our food,” says Garcia in order to create longer-lasting food in these takeout times while ensuring the quality. For example, they the popular avocado chicken salad dish isn’t viable anymore, since they can’t control exactly when people eat the arepas and maintain the freshness of the fruit.
While the pair continue to sell their arepa kits, there are other plans in the works too. “Since things are so unpredictable,” says Schiek, “it’s better for us to have several projects that have some sort of income coming in.” Soon, they’ll open up a stand at the Texas Farmers Market at Mueller, starting at the end of October on Sundays. On deck will be their meal kits, as well as ready-made breakfast arepas.
They also eventually want to try to get placements at supermarkets and grocery stores. Before they can embark on that, though, they need to expand their cooking operation (larger space, more equipment, staff). To do that, they applied for funding through a local angel investor network. They’re also looking to offer merchandise. Further down the line, they’d love to open a physical restaurant at some point.
Currently, Arepa Dealers’s arepa meal kit deliveries are available through their site, which are made on scheduled days by the couple themselves. There are also pickups and DoorDash deliveries available through Austin-based ordering platform Hotplate.