For The Love of Food by Leslie Olano

For The Love of Food by Leslie Olano


Leslie Olano is a small business owner and Kenosha native, whos mission is to share her love of food with the community. Olanos Empanadas is her family business, specializing in freshly baked empanadas, or South American Pastries. Their product can be found at local farmers markets, food  truck events, or through deliveries and catering. Social media and website are updated weekly, so follow them to stay up-to date with their journey! 

Small Steps Move Us Forward
By Leslie Olano

In 2013 our business plan consisted of baby steps, goals that we worked hard to achieve. We noticed that the food truck industry was growing, but Kenosha only had a couple of them. The opportunity was there and we were focused on it. Also the closest empanadas were either in Chicago or Milwaukee. We had to act fast because we could predict that the food truck wave was coming.

We werent able to buy a food truck right away because it was way too expensive for us, so we decided to be a food vendor at farmers markets. Our set up with a white tent, tables, signs, and plenty of empanadas. We needed to get the word out face to face and build our customer base.

We purchased a catering van in order to transport our equipment to and from farmers markets and catering events. My husband is always thinking outside the box and wanted to convert it into a pop-up empanada truck, so we could literally stand up inside of it and sell. This concept had been done with VW Vans, so why not try it with a Nissan 2500NV.

We searched nationwide, and low and behold the person who said yes to converting our van for us, has a business right here in Wisconsin. Josh from Caged Crow Fabrication, in St Germain, WI is well known for building food trucks, but had never done a project like ours. We are thankful that he said yes to our idea! It paid off and it was a hit! It is something unique and people love the design too.

This would be a perfect next stepfor us, in order to reach our goal to own a food truck with a commercial kitchen inside. We worked hard for years and we saved up enough for a down payment for a 16 foot food trailer. That is the trailer we have today. It has a convection oven inside and everything that we need to make empanadas.

When the company delivered the food trailer, we noticed there was no manual. We had to figure out this thing on our own. It was pretty intimidating and honestly we didnt use it for the first three weeks. Where would we start? Little by little we became more comfortable. Luckily my dad is pretty handy and he guided us through a lot of it and Alex used his kitchen expertise to make it his own.

Four weeks ago Alex was driving to our base kitchen and when he arrived, the oven had fallen on its side. Thank God no one was hurt, but we took it immediately to our equipment provider in Illinois. We just got it back, but it needs to go through inspections again, which can take a few days. We cannot wait to bring it back to the Kenosha Public Market on Saturdays. Also we will be getting a new wrap done to the outside soon, so keep an eye out for it!

Thanks to our customers for staying with us on our journey. We missed seeing your smiling faces in 2020, you guys keep us going and motivated to keep growing! Its all about baby steps.

Follow Olano’s Empanadas on Facebook Click Here
(This article first appeared in the 6/3/21 issue of the Smart Reader)


Don’t Underestimate the Underdog

By: Leslie Olano

 The love of food and the passion for service drives me to get up each day to provide the best quality empanadas to our customers. There were many times where I felt lost while I was trying to navigate my life path. Over the years I have learned not to underestimate myself because I realized that I have a unique power. As humans we all have the power inside of us, if only we open our minds to the possibility.

Going into business with my husband was a risk and we carefully crafted our plan of action. This road wasn’t an easy one, but the sacrifices we made for the benefit of the business would soon pay off. The early mornings when the darkness was still present as we were on our way to the kitchen to prepare for a day of work at the farmer’s market. The whole week was spent preparing for this day, so we better make it count.

 For a few days prior, we constantly analyzed the weather hoping for sunshine, but we would be prepared for anything. The birds were singing and the air filled with foggy mist, as we entered the market on Saturday. The vendors were busy emptying their vehicles and setting up their tents. The weights fastened to each tent leg. There’s nothing scarier than a tent suddenly sailing above the market on a windy day!

The tables positioned and aligned perfectly in a row, making sure all is ready for the start of the market. Vegetables of all sizes, shapes, and colors lined up in the front of the tables, the sound of kettle corn popping in the distance, the sizzle of oil as egg rolls drop into the fryer, blenders buzzing preparing Bubble Teas and smoothies, people walking and chatting before the market begins, managers with their pencils and clip boards making sure everyone is in their spots, the energy fills the street as the sun rises and shines, but there are still some clouds too and a nice breeze. Thank God we were blessed with great weather on that day.

 The years have gone quickly, but the memories will last a lifetime. The people we have met through farmers markets have changed our lives for the better. The business owners who continue to inspire us on a daily basis push us to work harder. The foundation we are building will withstand the test of time because we are laying the groundwork for our children, grand children, and the community we leave in the future. Building a society based on hard work, integrity, empathy, passion, and togetherness, where people are lifted up to greatness. A safe place where everyone is welcome, regardless of age, gender, color, or religion. All we ask is you have a positive attitude, be willing to work together for the greater good, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.

 Why settle for a future that is ordinary, when you can create something different and unique. Trust me, my husband and I have been underestimated in the past, but here we are going on 13 years of marriage and 8 years in business. We are just getting started and we have to keep a fresh mindset. Don’t underestimate people and if you have a “so-called crazy” idea that you are passionate about, plan ahead and go for it! Sometimes the “off-the-wall” ideas are the best ones. How will you know unless you try? You are the star in your own story, so own it, and create some magic!

 **Olano’s Empanadas is at the Kenosha Public Market on Saturdays from 9am to 2:30pm. The first outdoor market begins on May 8th, 2021.**

**Pre-ordering is available via website or     

**Check their social media for regular updates!**

(This article first appeared in the 5/06/21 issue of the Smart Reader)


Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons

By: Leslie Olano

In April 2020 my family and I booked a trip to visit Alexs family in Peru, South America. It look months to plan our adventure and we were looking forward to experiencing the food, natural wonders and history, including Machu Picchu. Our kids and I were finally going to meet his extended family and we could not wait! Unfortunately a few months prior, we received the devastating news that we had to cancel the trip due to COVID-19. Rather than taking the time off to relax, we buckled down and worked instead.

When the pandemic ravished throughout this world, it was the time where small businesses (including us) needed to think outside the box. It was time to hustle harder and figure out how to make it work in order to survive. The moment when we were in lockdown, our farmers markets and events were cancelled. Our focus was to move to online sales and deliveries, in order to provide frozen empanadas to our customers.  

If it was not for the changes that we made due to the pandemic, we do not know if we would have pushed so hard on the deliveries. It has paid off because we have had a steady stream of orders and deliveries from Illinois to Milwaukee. Our customers appreciate the convenience of door-to-door service. We hope you will experience the benefit of having take and bakeempanadas in your freezer, too!  (Feel free to check out our website for ordering inquiries)!

If you are a business owner and you are in a transition right now, keep pushing and try different avenues of sales. I suggest not to rely on just one way to sell your product, so try online sales, deliveries, and farmers markets (depending on what your product is). In addition to sales directly through our business (, customers can order frozen empanadas and dozens of local products through the Kenosha Public Market website ( KPM launched their new market concept and their online ordering system last year. Customers can experience the ease of online ordering and have the option to do curbside pickups. Join us at the Kenosha Public Market on Saturdays @ The Vault Banquet Hall 625 57th Street in Kenosha, expanded hours 10:00am to 2:00pm.

For the past seven years our business has grown into what it is today. We still have some unfinished business, such as taking our family trip to Peru. This will forever be our motivation in order to evolve. When life give you lemons, dont give up and find your unique path to make lemonade! Keep on hustling and find what motivates you! Traveling, spending time with family, and enjoying lifes simple pleasures, continues to motivate me. The victory will be that much sweeter, once we are able to go to Peru! I will keep you all posted along the way. Until then we will take one day at a time.

(This article first appeared in the 2/25/21 issue of the Smart Reader)

The Power of Positive Thinking
Written By: Leslie Olano

    Over the years I have experienced ups and downs; personal and professional. Sometimes it is hard to keep a smile and positive attitude 24/7. I believe the key to success is to make a conscious decision to be happy and positive.

 Starting the day with a positive outlook will set the tone for the rest of your day. If you can implement positive thinking into your daily life, your overall wellness will flourish both physically and mentally. Positive daily thinking affirmations are powerful. Keep a sense of humor and try to keep the complaining to a minimum. Focus on what you have, instead of what you don’t have. Envision yourself being successful because attitude is everything.

 Don’t get me wrong; this can be a difficult task. We are all victims of outside stresses and negativity. When we open up social media or read the news, we are bombarded with negativity. That can take its toll, so it is important to take breaks to recharge. Step back from work for a bit and also take a technology break. Unplug and take a walk in nature to clear the mind and feed the soul.

 Having a balanced home-work life is key, so take time for yourself and exercise when you can. Have a hobby outside of work because it is easy to forget to take care of yourself and enjoy life pleasures and passions. Surround yourself with positive people who support you in your endeavors.

 I have recently gotten back into playing music and writing, which have been great for my mental health. Life is a balancing act and each day I am faced with choices and decisions. I have taught myself that failure is not an option because I will always get back up again. I make a continuous effort to have an open mind and to stay flexible.

 Positive thinking is an important tool that everyone can use. I have learned to apply it to my daily life and I have worked hard to train my mindset to choose positivity. I am constantly coaching myself to be better and I remember to be thankful each and every day.

 I hope you will try it for yourself, and allow yourself to be open to it. Set little goals for yourself and celebrate your successes. Remember we all go through the ups and downs of life. Find yourself a community group, or reach out to an old friend or family member. Reconnect with someone and tell them you love them. Life is too short and we can all spread positivity to make this world a better place. It all starts within ourselves.


Trying to stay sane during this thing called life

By: Leslie Olano

It’s hard to navigate the world right now, but I am trying to stay positive!

There is no perfect answer. I wish I knew what the future will hold. All we can do is appreciate what we do have and thank God for each day. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so we must live in the moment.

Sometimes it’s hard to stay so positive because there are so many unanswered questions out there. Being a working mom, the safety of my children is important, however so is my sanity! Do I send our children to school, or do I choose virtual? How do I balance home and work life? How do I grow our business? Where is the perfect location for us? So many questions, my head is spinning!

Will our children have a safe and healthy planet to live on? How to we ensure the health of this planet? Sometimes we all feel helpless, but our voices do matter!

Over the last few weeks I’ve witnessed our community residents coming together to help clean up the city after the riots. People are speaking out about their thoughts, fears, hopes, and injustices. It can be scary to open up because some people can ridicule and spread hate, but if we can find the courage to stand together we can accomplish anything.

The struggles make the victory that much sweeter. When we get knocked down, we must get back up so we can reach higher ground! I wish I had all of the answers, but that is not the case. All I can do is listen to my intuition to guide me through this thing called life.

Each human’s story is unique and no one walks the same road as anyone else. We must cherish the things that make us different and realize that we have a lot more in common than we think! Living in Kenosha makes us all united as one community. We are only as strong as our weakest link and we must lift each other up. Giving thanks for each day on this Earth is essential and we must make the most of it while we are here.

(this article first appeared in the Sept. 25th issue of the Smart Reader publication)


Food is the Universal Language

By: Leslie Olano

During these uncertain times in this world, we can all turn to the love of food to bring us together. Coming together as a family around the dinner table is one of the things I cherish most about life. Giving our children those experiences is essential for their personal and spiritual growth.

 Being a business owner we interact with many different people on a daily basis. Our customers are all unique, however have something in common… the love of empanadas. We have served people from all over the world. Old and young, all different races and ethnicities, backgrounds and traditions.

 We have much more in common than we think. Instead of focusing on how we are all different, we can find commonalities, such as the love of food.

 Food has no bounderies and does not judge. We can all appreciate those special moments sharing a special meal with our loved ones.

 The simple things are the ones we take for granted, but during these times where we can come together and appreciate the moments that we share together. Even if we don’t speak the same language, food is the universal language which brings memories and fufillment to life’s journey.

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 This article first appeared in the July 30th 2020 Smart Reader


Never Give Up

In 2013, our business plan was written and Olanos Empanadas was born. A crucial step in our planning was finding a commercial kitchen to rent in the area, so we could start producing our empanadas and selling them. We discovered HALOs Recipe for Successprogram in Racine, which was geared toward start up businesses. Yes! This was exactly what we were looking for.HALO, stands for Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization and it has two commercial kitchens. The program was just what we needed and we couldnt wait to start.

The mens kitchen was the one that the businesses would use to produce their products. On our first day, we met with the kitchen manager and another business owner who used the facility. Our time had to be scheduled in advance because it was a shared kitchen. We were happy to have a place where we could start our business from the ground up.

The next step was to schedule our licensing and kitchen inspection. My husband had 20 years of kitchen experience and has worked in pretty much every position in a restaurant. I looked to him for leadership because I had little kitchen experience, except for at home cooking with my family. I was eager to learn the ins and outs of the kitchen and how to run an effective empanada business.

It wasnt easy at first, and I could tell that my husband was trying to keep his cool in order to teach me the proper ways of working in a kitchen. He was a sous chef in his previous restaurant, and he had management experience.  He told me, If you have a question, dont be afraid to ask. There are no stupid questions!I bet he regretted telling me this because I had a million questions.

Alexs grandma was the inspiration for our empanadas, so we wanted to do justice and make a dough that would be flaky, and hold its shape during the baking process. It couldnt be too soft, otherwise the empanadas would go flat. It had to be sweet, but just enough sweetness to make our customers come back for more.

The perfect combination of savory and sweet, the unique combinations of fillings that Alex would create complimented the dough. Some people ask, Do you buy your dough, or make it from scratch?Making the dough from scratch was the only option. The hard work would be worth it and Alex told me, Never take shortcuts when it comes to the quality of the food.

I had my dough recipe ready and I was ready to start measuring. Little did I know, that sometimes the recipe had to be adjusted due to variations in temperature and humidity. Alex would tell me, You have to feel the dough, to make sure it feels right.How would I know how its supposed to feel? Practice, practice, practice!

One baby step at a time, little goals and achievements have been celebrated in and out of the kitchen. If things didnt work out exactly like we planned, we always bounced back stronger than ever. We are always pushing ourselves to do better. Never giving up is key, even when the road is hard.

We are so thankful to have been a part of HALOs Recipe for Successprogram. Without having access to their kitchen, we do not know where we would have started. Someday we hope we can open our own community kitchen in order to repay the favor and give back to businesses. Support from others was given to us when we needed it most and we will forever be grateful.

(This article first appeared in the June 19th issue of the Smart Reader)

“Meet us at the Market”
by: Leslie Olano

 Farmer’s Markets are starting up for 2020 and it is an exciting time! Even though we are amidst of a pandemic, farmer’s market have been deemed “essential” and should be a safer way to shop since they are outdoors.

 Fresh produce picked a few hours before, baked goods fresh out of the oven, dog treats made with love, sauces and salsas galore! The smells and the sounds, the community gathers and unites as one. As humans we need this interaction and community involvement. It’s good for the heart and soul to breathe the fresh air and take it all in.

 There is such a variety to explore each and every week. Where else can you find local produce grown right here in Wisconsin, as well as prepared foods and local products? The variety is unmatched and we are lucky to have so many markets in Wisconsin! There will be two markets on Saturday in Kenosha this season. The Kenosha Harbor Market and the NEW Kenosha Public Market. We will be at both of them this summer, so make sure you check them out and support local!

 Here are a few tips for shopping at farmers markets this year (from a vendor perspective).

 -Pre-order with the vendors, to ensure they have the product that you want. Ordering information can be found on the farmers market websites, social media, or directly with the vendors. Don’t be shy because we would love to hear from you!

 -Pay with exact change, or pre-pay to speed up the transaction and waiting time. Efficiency is the key to keep the lines moving.

 -Wear a face mask to protect yourself and the vendors. We appreciate it if the customers wear them, to keep us all safe. It will give us a peace of mind and it’s a small thing you can do to make us feel more comfortable during the pandemic we are in.

 -Keep 6 feet distance between the customers and please be patient as the vendors fill the orders.

 -Be kind because we are all in this together! A lot of hard work goes in to the market each week, so don’t forget to say please & thank you as you shop!  

 Thanks and we can’t wait to see our customers this year! It’s been a long time “staying at home” so we are looking forward to some social interaction. Thank you for reading and we hope everyone gets a chance to join us this year.


Choose Baked with Olanos

I learned to appreciate food at a young age. Despite long hours at work, my Italian American parents never failed to provide wonderful, homemade meals each night. Thoughts of savory sauce layered into delicious lasagna and seasoned stuffed peppers always brings forth nostalgia and warmth.

Alex Olano was the first person I ever met from Peru and we fell in love immediately. He introduced me to exotic dishes from his home country and it was apparent how talented he was in the kitchen. My husband always longed to be an entrepreneur and early on knew his destiny would be tied into food. He was determined to provide for his family, but did not know how to make his dreams a reality.  

One summer day we discovered the Kenosha HarborMarket. The various vendors and array of goods was impressive. Roaming the aisles had a great impact on us and soon after, the inspiration for Olanos Empanadas was born.

Initially we were overwhelmed with hurdles. How do we start a business? Would people like our product? How do we sell? When do we profit? There were many unanswered questions, but we were determined to find them! This would be a long road ahead, but our need to provide for our family outweighed any obstacles. We decided to take a huge risk just like our ancestors before us.

Much brainstorming, planning and preparation followed. We knew our menu had to be uniquewhile appealing to the masses. Alex opted for empanadas as they were an enormous part of his childhood and a staple of his family dinners. He wanted to provide a dish that was healthy, convenient, and easy to eat at the market. Empanadas allowed him to play with countless ingredients and endless flavor combinations to create the perfect baked Peruvian treat.  

From the homemade dough to the organic fillings, completion was not an easy feat. Days and nights consisted of rolling, scooping, stuffing, baking, and sampling until Alex deemed the goods up to par. After our first sale, we were overwhelmed with an enormous sense of accomplishment.  In that moment, we knew our perseverance made all the hard work worthwhile.

Life is filled with unexpected pleasures. I never thought I would own a thriving empanada business and Alex never imagined he would settle in Kenosha with a family of four. Seven yearsago our empanadas were baked in the rented kitchen of a homeless shelter. Today we have two food trucks and offer 20 varieties. We are constantly coming up with ways to improve and flourish.

When the current COVID-19 crisis came upon us we knew our community needed us more than ever. As the markets are closed, pre-orders have been our focus. We love delivering our frozen empanadas as it serves to provide healthy, well-balanced food to our customers door-steps.

Even though my parents thought we were crazy when we told them we were going to start an empanada business, they have been supporting us every step of the way! We are thankful for our family and appreciate all of our customers. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart, carefully plan, and go for it! Our commitment to the community with quality goods is neverending, and we are trying to make a positive impact when we can.