For El Porteño Empanadas owner Joseph Ahearne, feeding folks “good food” is in his DNA.
Well before the farm-to-table boom, his mother raised cattle and hogs with the help of Joseph and his siblings for Maria’s, the family’s St. Helena restaurant.
Growing up, Joseph’s days were mostly spent in the restaurant’s kitchen reviving old family recipes like the empanadas he is now known for.
Today, El Porteño uses ingredients including local, organic and seasonal produce and sustainable meats.
“But the piece de resistance is a fluffy, flaky, baked-to-perfection crust even your mother would love,” said the company website.
On Oct. 2, El Porteño opened a new location inside Oxbow’s Public Market.
1. What was your first job?
I worked at my mom’s restaurant in St Helena when I was a kid, but I wasn’t paid so it probably doesn’t count. My first “real” job was washing dishes for the “Falcon Crest” cast and crew at the old Holiday Inn (now Marriott hotel) on Solano Avenue.
2. What job would you like to try/not try?
Try: Herpetology. The idea of working alone in a forest and studying reptiles and amphibians sounds like a great way for me to spend a work day.
Not try: Any government clerk position.
3. What’s the worst job you ever had?
When I was 19 I worked graveyard at Raychem Chemical company in East Palo Alto. I would weigh out powders and pellets for plastics, basically 500+ lb. recipes for tubing. I would do it in the dead of summer in a full hazmat suit. I’ve never complained about heat in a kitchen since.
4. How did you get into this business?
Growing up, we had our farm in Carneros and Maria’s restaurant in St. Helena. It was just always there, it was never really a conscious decision.
5. For someone who’s never had one before, what is an empanada and why are they so good?
It’s a savory pie. What makes it good is you can put anything inside of it.
6. What is the biggest challenge your business and industry has faced?
Not quite sure, but either elite Yelpers or COVID-19. But seriously, losing 80% of revenue overnight while we were ramping up for summer growth has been crippling, but given our amazing staff and customers, we have a lifeline.
7. Who do you most admire in the business world?
My mom. She moved here without speaking English. After my father passed away when I was 3, she operated a farm, opened two restaurants and raised five (unruly) kids, all before I turned 14. She taught me confidence and to never let adversity get in the way. Don’t be a victim.
8. If you could change one thing about your business or industry, what would it be?
The online review culture. Reviews are often more about the writer then what’s being reviewed. When you add the anonymity of the internet somebody can do real damage by disparaging a business to exact revenge for some silly mistake or just to feel superior.
9. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
Spend summers in Ireland with my children and wife in her hometown of Tralee.
10. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
My mom was Ms. Argentina.
Watch now: What will happen to outdoor dining in winter?