Austin area food truck entrepreneurs Cody and Kristen Fields – creators of ‘mmmpanadas’ frozen empanadas – were recently selected as first prize winner of the H-E-B Primo Picks ‘Quest for the Best’ competition for 2018.
In addition to a $25,000 cash prize, they received a product placement contract in local area H-E-B grocery stores and a brand-new 2018 Toyota Tundra Platinum Crewmax truck.
Just in time, as their current truck – a 1997 Toyota 4Runner – was just short of 300,000 miles on the odometer.
2018 Toyota Tundra Platinum Crewmax 4x4
Their new 2018 Toyota Tundra Platinum Crewmax 4x4 came fully wrapped for promotion of the winning mmmpanadas product line.
Powered by a 5.7L V8 engine producing 381 horsepower and mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, it features electronically controlled 4WD with Active Traction Control and Limited Slip differential. Running on 20-inch alloy wheels, the new Tundra hauls 1,600 pounds and tows 8,800 pounds.
Cody and Kristen are particularly appreciative of Toyota’s partnership with H-E-B in the ‘Quest for the Best’ program. They say the 2018 Tundra Platinum Crewmax has enabled mmmpanadas to raise their profile and expand their opportunities in the food business daily.
In addition to its role as a rolling advertisement for mmmpanadas, Cody says he has been well-pleased with how much product the Tundra can carry both in the cargo bed or in the crew cab with rear seats folded up. He can load full pallets of product in the bed for delivery to HEB and other customers, pick up supplies plus take the team and family comfortably to and from events in the comfortable crew cab.
He also pointed to several other features that have impressed them including powertrain performance, solid braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, dual zone A/C, JBL 12-speaker audio with Navigation, the Toyota Safety Sense system plus the rear-view camera, parking assist sensors, and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. One item not on their Tundra was the optional locking tonneau truck bed cover that could protect and secure product on the road or when working large events. Cody says he has put one on his holiday gift list.
Of course, the Fields family uses the Tundra personally too. Cody and Kristen both commented on how well it drives, the smooth and quiet ride, plus technology and connectivity useful for both business and family.
Kristen – who owns an Audi Q5 – added she likes to use the Tundra when driving their two small children to and from school and events. She finds the large back seat; full fold down rear console and electronics connectivity keeps the children very well occupied (translation – no squabbling) on those local trips.
1997 Toyota 4Runner SR5
Before the Tundra, the company vehicle was that 1997 Toyota 4Runner SR5 with 300,000 miles on the odometer.
Cody purchased the 4Runner in 2006 with 100,000 miles on it for $6,000. Even using it for both family and the start-up business, that was a lot of money for young entrepreneurs with a fledgling business. But it has repaid them several times over with its reliable service, says Cody, ‘It has never failed us”.
Putting the 4Runner into service as a delivery vehicle for street fairs, private events and catering, they discovered that – with second row folded down – a 24-foot chest freezer full of empanadas would fit in the back with the hatch closed making the 4Runner indispensable to their growth in those early years.
They had intended to retire it when they received the Tundra. Instead it continues to serve the business as a backup quick delivery vehicle, hauling the mmmpanadas sample cart to street fairs and other events and – when needed – transporting that chest freezer, full of backup product, to larger events like ACL and SXSW.
Artisan empanadas from mmmpanadas
For the uninitiated, an empanada is small meat or other filling wrapped snack food that is baked and served hot. Cody had experienced the tasty variety in empanadas when working in Costa Rica many years ago. After their marriage, they made them in their kitchen for friends in the area.
Then to help a friend with some bar food at the opening of his new club, they whipped up a batch of empanadas in their kitchen for the opening. Instant success as the word spread and more people began to ask them for empanadas.
The seed for a business making and wholesaling empanadas had been planted – mmmpanadas was born and started making and distributing them frozen from a shared kitchen location to local retailers.
With the emergence of the food truck phenomenon in Austin around 2008, they bought a used pizza truck and outfitted it to heat and serve empanadas at Austin area events. Not bashful, they went after the big ones like ACL and SXSW early finding they could sell thousands over a 7-10-day event.
Produced, baked and frozen at a central kitchen and heated and served from a booth or food truck, it was a logical step to wholesaling their frozen empanadas. Over time, they developed wholesale distribution through independent local food stores including the likes of Wheatsville Coop. Eventually, they supplied various regional Whole Foods stores with their empanadas – today – 15 stores in their North Atlantic Region.
The mmmpanadas food truck continues to roam the Austin festival scene throughout the year, basing near the University of Texas campus when not at a festival. Recently the Fields’ won a contract from Austin to provide food service (including empanadas) near the Barton Springs pool in Zilker Park.
Now, with the H-E-B contract in place, their goal of expanded regional leading to national wholesale distribution is on the horizon says Kristen Fields.
There are 18 empanadas varieties in the mmmpanadas line including savory, breakfast and sweet (dessert) items. All of their empanadas are hand-crafted, non-GMO and free of preservatives, food coloring or artificial additives.
H-E-B sells their best-selling varieties: Argentinian Beef, Cheeseburger, Green Chile Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom and Vegan Black Bean. The mmmpanadas can be found in the freezer case of 64 H-E-B stores throughout South Central Texas.
The H-E-B program has been a growth experience for the mmmpanadas team. They are already redesigning their selling package for better retail shelf placement, easier consumer handling and adding a sleeve to enhance microwave heating.
Sales are going well and challenging production capacity at Incubaker, the production and co-packer operation they started two years ago. Housed in a former airline flight kitchen and USDA approved, it produces and packages the mmmpanadas line plus products for other food entrepreneurs.
They will soon automate their packaging (now done by hand) for increased productivity in support of multi-shift production to increase production of empanadas.
While Cody works to improve and expand their capacity, Kristen is working on new ideas toward making mmmpanadas a national brand.
Learn more about mmmpanadas and where to find them here: https://mmmpanadas.com/
About H-E-B Quest for Texas Best
The H-E-B “Quest for Texas Best” is an open call statewide for locally‑owned, small food and beverage suppliers to have their items considered for placement on H‑E‑B shelves. Read about 2018 winners and finalists at: https://www.heb.com/static-page/quest.