Sharing The Flavors of Home

By / Photography By Bob Thompson | April 01, 2016
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Rosita Cruz's Empanadas
Each variety of empanada has a slightly different exterior to identify its filling.

Two families. Two countries of origin. One dream … 

Rosita Cruz’s legacy is well-established, with a new retail location built on a loyal following from local farmers’ markets.

Rosie Méndez is just starting out, taking a similar  path toward bringing her tamales to the Tampa Bay community.

Their stories are different and the same … stories of Latin American immigrants bringing unique flavors to 
their new home.

Rosita Cruz
Rosie Mendez


Growing up in Ecuador, Lori Cruz and her three older brothers would race straight home from school to eagerly devour their mother’s freshly baked, handmade empanadas carne.

The siblings still crave the crusty, oven-baked meat pies that were perfected by the family’s matriarch, Rosita Cruz. Today they follow that same recipe to make empanadas, but have expanded the selection to create a seemingly endless variety of savory and sweet hand pies.

“These are our mother’s recipes, her creations and her flavors. She has an unbelievable palate and is truly a culinary artist,” says Lori.

“We call mom’s kitchen the lab. There is an art to how she cuts onions. There is chemistry behind each culinary creation. There is a reason for everything she does.”


Rosita began her lifelong fascination with cooking by gravitating to the kitchen to watch her mother create lavish family meals or great feasts for guests.

After college, she married and became a mother of four, giving her ample opportunity to hone her culinary skills in her native Ecuador. Her reputation was such that friends insisted she offer cooking lessons, and students began to gather at her home to learn basic to advanced cooking skills. From there, a small culinary empire – which soon included several restaurants, a cookbook, a catering business, and a cake decorating and pastry division – was born.

When Rosita decided to leave what a she had built behind, it quickly became clear that what began in Ecuador would be right at home in the Tampa Bay area. When her children began bringing treasured family specialties – including their childhood-favorite empanadas – to office pot luck lunches, baby showers and other social events, a new business was born.

Rosita's Cheese Bread
Rosita’s cheese bread isn’t in the business name, but it is a specialty that shouldn’t be missed.


“This is in our blood. It’s in our genes. We grew up with this,” said Lori referring to the combined culinary experience behind the family- owned business: Empanada World: Rosita’s Gourmet Pastries.”

For the last eight years, the Cruz family’s signature empanadas have been a fixture at the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market and other markets throughout the area. Lori recalls customers unfamiliar with the concept initially mistaking empanadas for enchiladas; now customers know to buy their favorites early before supplies run short.

As demand grew, the family moved operations from a rental facility to a commercial kitchen located in a South Tampa retail center. The new space easily accommodated increased production and a catering business, but also allowed space for a small café and bakery.

That café opened last summer, featuring always-available beef, steak, onion and provolone, crabmeat, or spinach and feta empanadas, along with a limited selection of other savory and sweet varieties (a rotation offering some of the more than 120 varieties Rosita has painstakingly tested, tasted, refined and defined through the years). But empanadas aren’t all that are served: a full menu of family recipes that range from soups and sandwiches to breads and desserts is available.

This is just the latest in a business that is truly all about having the right recipe – not only for empanadas, but for building strong family ties. In fact, Lori notes that five generations are now involved in the business: “If we run out of nieces and nephews, then cousins will start exchanging suits for aprons.”

Empanada World
4123 Henderson Blvd, Tampa

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