Rikki Waite, the owner of My Grandma’s Empanadas in Warner Robins, serves up more than her Panamanian grandmother’s prized recipe. Her restaurant offers support to local farmers, artisans, community members and organizations.
“My mission here at My Grandma’s Empanadas is to really build community through culinary art,” Waite said.
The art is in everything from the how the empanada is made to where the ingredients come from. Waite considers her approach to food as part of the “Slow Food” movement.
“[Slow Food] is bringing it back to the roots to how our Grandma’s cooked, actually making real food ... not highly processed food,” she said.
Waite said she cares about what people eat and where their food comes from, which is why she buys most of her supplies from 15 different local farmers and artisans in Middle Georgia.
Fernando and Margarita Mendez own Marview Farms in Arabi, Ga. They first met Waite three years ago while she was selling her empanadas at a booth at the International City Farmers’ Market in Warner Robins.
“My Grandma’s Empanadas had a little booth there ... and that’s the way they got started, making empanadas there underneath the tent. We established a relationship since day one ... until now,” said Fernando Mendez.
According to the husband and wife team, the partnership was a natural fit with their farming practices. Fernando Mendez said he is not certified organic because of the bureaucracy but follows organic practices like not using chemicals and feeding animals grass.
“The reason why I do what I do is to provide the most nutritious and healthiest meats to our family and customers,” Mendez said. “We go out of our way.”
Waite said going through farmers is a more expensive route, but she cares about quality and keeping the money in Middle Georgia. She said customers come from all over to try the Panamanian staple and to support the Slow Food movement.
Sharon Aman works at Robins Air Force base and lives in Byron, Ga. She’s been coming to My Grandma’s Empanadas since it opened two years ago.
“It’s a good business decision to keep it local,” she said. “It certainly supports the farmers to have another place for folks to come have their food. I also like the fact that they display the local art to help support the local artists.”
From the restaurant’s décor to working with local farmers to making the food from scratch, Waite has put a lot of thought into every detail of My Grandma’s Empanadas.
“People are really embracing the difference in the food, the Panamanian culture, but also supporting the local farmers,” she said.
Oliver Farms supplies the oil for cooking the hand rolled empanadas. This fall their story will be told on a food series, called Tastemakers, airing on public television. The piece will also feature My Grandma’s Empanadas. Check your local listings for dates and times.