Empanada Nirvana owner Nelson Pantoja and his business partner/manager Addie Torres moved from their food truck on 9W last May and have been running their restaurant for a little over a year in Walden.
“The town has really embraced us,” shared Pantoja. “We have a lot of space to throw events, and give the community a place to come together.”
The duo has always enjoyed giving back to the community and when Covid first hit, the food truck on 9W held a “Feed the Need” event for local residents to come get free food. Pantoja said everyone was welcome and since then they have done several big charity catering events and recently had the idea to start a Walden Free Food Fridge to carry on that name and initiative.
Pantoja explained that occasionally there would be an excess of food at the end of the night which is how the idea came to fruition. “As a restaurant every now and then from events we get left with extra food. We would give it away to families at the end of the night if it was a little bit and when we really had leftovers, we would send plates to the New Paltz Free Food Fridge so it started to make sense to maybe open up a fridge to the people of Walden,” he shared. Pantoja said Village of Walden Mayor John Ramos gave them a donated fridge to start the program. The food consists of ready to go meals that people can take home and heat up at their leisure.
The pandemic also made the duo conscious of how bad families were hurting locally.
“When we first opened the fridge the food would be gone over night after being completely filled. That was about 30-40 plates a night. It was shocking and almost hard to believe. So one night after we made a post that we put food in we waited to see who showed up. Within an hour 12 different families showed up to take what they needed and only what they needed. It was a really emotional night. Husbands and wives, many people with small children,” Pantoja explained.
When asked how the pandemic impacted his business, Pantoja said, “We are really blessed to have survived through the worst days of the pandemic. There were months where we really had to cut back and get creative as to how to how to survive without putting all the extra cost on our customers.”
Currently, the duo is in the middle of making a DBA (Doing Business As) for the fridge and creating a separate entity because residents have asked how to make donations to the cause. Regular customers have already offered to assist with building a permanent enclosure for the fridge as a way to get the program moving forward.
“We urge people to get in touch with us if they would like to help. Whether it be donating plates, dry goods, hygiene supplies. We are looking to continue to build our ability to help the community, but we can’t do it alone. Also, we would like to thank those who have already come out to show their support for the fridge,” expressed a grateful Pantoja.
Empanada Nirvana will host a Feed the Need night on July 30, 5 to 9 p.m.to raise awareness of the Walden Food Fridge Project. It will feature food and live music from Andhi & the O’Neills. Residents are welcome to come and find ways to donate their time, resources, goods, or financial aid. The restaurant is located at 75 East Main Street.
For more information on the Walden Free Food Fridge visit www.empanadanirvana.com or like the Empanada Nirvana Facebook page.