When Sonia Sandoval moved to America from Venezuela, language was a barrier, she recalled. Rather than keep to herself, Sandoval found a more meaningful form of communication: food.
“I started [cooking] when I was 11 years old,” said Sandoval, who co-founded the pop-up Venezuelan food concept, Happy Tummy, with her husband, Juan Paredes. “I share recipes with my mom and my grandmother; and I love those moments in the kitchen. It is my passion.”
The idea behind Happy Tummy was born out of the pandemic, with Sandoval cooking up empanadas for neighbors and friends.
“Our friends said, ‘You have to sell this!’” Paredes recalled. “… [We said] ‘Let’s do it.’ We applied to the farmers’ market.”
Impressed by the Paredes’ empanadas, organizers at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market accepted their application. The Paredes set up shop on Saturdays starting May 2021, and Sandoval already knew what they’d call their empanada stand.
“I have a friend here, and when we [met], I didn’t speak English,” Sandoval said — noting that she asked one of her sons to translate for her and tell the friend she’d like to have her over for a meal.
“Always, she comes to my house, and I share food. One Christmas here, [she wrote] a letter and said thank you for making my belly and tummy very happy. Everybody, when they [try] my food says, ‘I am happy!’”
Happy Tummy became a regular vendor at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market over the 2021 season — adding Wednesdays to its pop-up schedule. As more and more interest sparked in Happy Tummy, the couple began selling at the Mission Farmers’ Market on Thursday nights.
Vegans, vegetarians and meat-lovers can all enjoy Happy Tummy’s wide variety of empanadas, including: black beans, cheese, chicken, ground beef, shrimp, steak, and eggs and bacon.
Sealed together by community
A few weeks into serving empanadas at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market, the couple noticed they were building a community of regular customers.
“Some people have [brought] their family from another state, and they want to show Happy Tummy and show our empanadas,” Sandoval said. “It is amazing that people want to share our empanadas [with family], and I am very proud.”
Happy Tummy’s best customers: children.
“They come every week and try the empanadas,” Sandoval shared. “The families come with the babies, and they’re dancing — very excited [for the food.] …We have a customer who has a 7-year-old, and she told me that they follow Happy Tummy everywhere. We move around, and they move around with us! They’re happy, and I’m very happy.”
The Paredes have also built a community with other vendors at the farmers’ markets. At the Mission Farmers’ Market, they met Roman Raya and his food concept, Taco Tank.
“[Roman] came to see us and share with us his tacos; and we shared our empanadas and started to talk and ask about [his] trailer,” Sandoval said.
With Raya moving Taco Tank into Parlor’s Crossroads food hall this fall, it made sense to sell his trailer to the Paredes. They gratefully accepted his offer, they shared.
“We are very happy to have met him. We say that we are family because we have the same baby,” Paredes said in reference to the trailer, laughing.
Click here to read more about Taco Tank’s expansion into Parlor’s Crossroads.
Frozen empanadas for winter months
With farmers’ markets across the city closed for winter, Happy Tummy is continuing to serve its authentic Venezualan flavors through pop-ups at local breweries, personal orders and catering.
“We have all of our flavors of empanadas available to [be ordered] frozen,” Paredes said.
For those who want to keep tabs on where Happy Tummy is popping up this winter, the couple advised following their page on Instagram where they post updates. Customers can also best reach them for catering inquiries through Instagram direct message or by calling the numbers listed on their page.
Click here to follow Happy Tummy on Instagram.
In 2022, Happy Tummy is applying to return to the Overland Park Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Mission Farmers’ Market on Thursdays, and then planning to add the Lenexa Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays.
“We’re working to offer different menu options,” Paredes teased. “Possibly Venezuelan style hot dogs or burgers.”
Currently prepping their food out of a community kitchen space at Kansas State University-Olathe, Happy Tummy is also looking to expand into their own brick-and-mortar location.
“We think the next step for us is the restaurant, but it is scary [to do for] the first time,” Paredes said. “We need help, but we are here — working on that step by step.”
“And never giving up,” Sandoval added, smiling.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.
Watch a TikTok below by Lisa Nguyen that goes inside Happy Tummy.
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