Paula Capovilla, co-owner of Venga Empanadas in the Mission District, first moved to San Francisco in 2002. She and business partner Pablo Romano — who, like Capovilla, made his trek to the city from Argentina in the 1990s — agreed there was a lack of empanadas in their new home and decided to do something about it. Manuel Godino, who opened Venga Empanadas in 2012 on Valencia Street before launching another location in Redwood City, capitalized on their passions when he brought them on to his fledgling business. Godino eventually sold his share of the business to Romano and Capovilla, and now the small Argentinian shop will spread the empanada gospel even further with a third location in Salesforce Tower opening on May 27. “We don’t find too many Argentinian places in San Francisco,” Capovilla says. “We really want our business to be a chance for people to learn about Argentinian food, and the empanada tradition.”
The Salesforce Transit Center hosts an expansive directory of local businesses, opened — or yet to open, like Venga — such as Philz Coffee, Barebottle Brewing, and Poke House. When the transit center project was first announced about six years ago, Capovilla called her District Six representative’s office to see if she could throw Venga Empanadas in the running for available retail locations. City employees helped Capovilla find the right contacts in the Transbay project, and she says it took a lot of collaboration to bring this project to fruition. “They tried our product and loved it,” Capovilla says. “They were super nice from the beginning. It’s a big project in the city, and we are a pretty unique cafe that they wanted to help grow.”
When they heard about the opportunity, the co-owners thought it would be a way to further their relationship with the Latinx community of the Mission to be part of the opening; they want their business to serve more and more people who miss empanadas as much as they did. Everything on the menu will be the same — all kinds of empanadas for $4.60 and a variety of soups and salads for about $8 — but they will sell hard liquor for the first time under the Transbay Center’s liquor license. Capovilla is excited to serve a number of drinks, including Fernet and Coke, a mezcal hibiscus drink, an Aperol spritz, and a gin and tonic, which will join the original food menu; a longtime employee is helping craft the cocktails. The restaurant’s launch party will be a chance to pour Catena Zapata wines from a vineyard in Argentina and host Calito Franco and the Latin Jazz Trio.
As the restaurant grows into the new neighborhood, Capovilla says she’s excited for all the new people who will experience her culture and food. Catering is a major revenue source for Venga, she says, but the owners always prefer to serve customers in their own space. “If someone is working with a computer and gets a coffee and stays forever, that’s fine,” Capovilla says. “Empanadas are fast food, but sometimes people will stay, too. And we love that.”
Venga Empanadas (50 Minna Street, between First and Second Streets) debuts May 27 at 4 p.m. and will be open everyday 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Update: September 7, 12:23 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that Manuel Godino founded Venga Empandas in 2008. He left the company and sold to Pablo Romano and Paula Capovilla in 2016.