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  • Writer's pictureCullen Heater

Innovation & Empanadas: How to survive the new normal

Panama City, Panamá

Monday, September 28th, 2020

The Birth of the New Normal

Today is the day. For thousands of restaurant owners, chefs, and diners, today marks the birth of the new normal. Restaurants in Panamá are officially open for indoor dining with new restrictions on capacity and sanitation. This restaurant renaissance will not be easy. It will take time and patience for businesses to start up again, and for customers to feel comfortable going out. No one can guarantee that reopening will succeed, or that restaurants will survive. If we want to see a return of the thriving, pre-pandemic restaurant industry in Panamá City, we will need to work together as a community and learn from each other.

In this series of blogposts, I will be highlighting 3 innovative small-businesses in the food industry here in PTY that illustrate a concept that has recently become an obsession for me: Einstein’s three rules of work and how they relate to the reopening of the restaurant industry. Today, I want to recognize the hard work and innovation of the team at La Empanaderia, from whom we can learn a great deal about how to survive in the new normal.

(Author’s Note: to learn more about my three rules for reopening the restaurant industry, check out my article “Einstein’s Head” at the bottom of the Writing Services page of

Rule #1: Out of Clutter, Find Simplicity

As I squeeze the salsa de ajo into my empanada de pabellón, I can remember the old normal; the sounds and smells of carefree dining at La Empanaderia come rushing back. The bottle feels the same in my hands. And that’s because it is the same, except that I’m in my kitchen, sitting at my counter. Fundamentally, restaurants are not in the business of selling food; guests come to restaurants to buy an experience. Throughout the pandemic, La Empanaderia has succeeded in recreating that experience by innovating their business model and capturing the essence of their distinctive flavor. At our house, every meal has the potential to be an Empanaderia experience; there is always a bottle of salsa de ajo and a 1 kg block of queso llanero in our refrigerator. All we need to do is add the ingredients to create the experience. The curled shavings fall off of the block of queso llanero as I slide it gently back and forth across the cheese grater, mixing with the melted butter on my morning arepa and adding the signature, authentic Venezuelan flavor that keeps people coming back to La Empanaderia.

Through the simplification of their business model, La Empanaderia found a simple way to sell the experience of being there. Think about how brilliant that is. Before March 2020, I never would have thought about buying the ingredients from La Empanaderia, and now I feel like I can’t live without them. By following the example of La Empanaderia, reducing clutter, and finding simplicity, restaurants will be able to streamline cost and increase quality by doing fewer things but doing them better. Guest experience will be vastly improved, and restaurants will be able to maintain the loyalty of their followers.

Innovation is the Key to Survival

La Empanaderia will be reopening on October 10th, in a new location (Food Garden Plaza, Calle 57, Obarrio) with a brand new design and concept, proving once again their ability to innovate and their readiness to thrive in the post-lockdown economy.

“La Empanaderia grew out of the initiative of entrepreneurial people, with the idea of turning our dream into a reality; to have a place where families and friends have a space where they can enjoy excellent venezuelan food,” says Regulo Dávilo, co-owner of the restaurant. The beauty of that dream is in its simplicity. “That is La Empanaderia, where we simply search for excellence in the preparation and exposition of venezuelan gastronomy.

At La Empanaderia, during these 3 years we have strived to maintain quality in our products and service for the satisfaction of all, whom we consider part of our family. At the end of February of this year we began the process of moving our headquarters to offer a better service and space for family enjoyment… Now we are back and in October we will be restarting operations in our new location, maintaining the same quality, to the delight of all of you because you deserve it.”

As the restaurant renaissance continues, I look forward to creating new memories and new experiences. I believe that, while difficult, this period of time in human history offers a unique opportunity to rebuild a better society. Through innovation and simplification, restructuring and reform, we can remake a better food system and create our image of what we want the restaurant industry in Panamá, and around the world, to look like. It is up to each of us to contribute to the common good and do our part to leave the world better than we found it.

“Prepara tu vida, nosotros las empanadas”

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