At Hipatia Lopez’s Elmwood Park home, empanadas are a staple, especially during parties and family gatherings. But making enough of these goodies for family and friends always takes a lot of time, something the working mother of three doesn’t have enough of. For Lopez, necessity was the mother of invention when she figured out a way to speed up the empanada-making process without sacrificing flavor.
Lopez discovered an easier way to make empanadas—using a tool similar to a stamp or cookie cutter that helps seal them neater and faster. She called it the Empanada Fork. Before she invented it, she had to use an actual fork to individually press the pastries. Thanks to her invention, all that’s needed is one single press down on the pastry and you’re done. We asked her how she took her idea and turned into an actual product.
New Jersey Family: What inspired the idea of Empanada Fork?
Lopez: The inspiration for my idea began around the kitchen table. It was during the holiday season and we were hosting a party at our house. We had empanadas on the menu. They are usually a big hit at our parties. We were making 100 empanadas. As I was sealing the empanadas, I became frustrated because this last step was taking so long. I had all three of my children helping me close the empanadas. I jokingly said, “I’m going to invent a utensil to help me.” We all laughed and continued the prep work for the holiday. That night I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I found myself thinking about it 24/7. I decided to do some research online. Eventually, I decided to contact a patent lawyer and the journey began.
NJF: What was it like getting your business up and running?
Lopez: It was very difficult at first because I had no clue what this entailed. I’m not an engineer and could not draw, etc. I did my best to sketch the utensil and found an architect that finally helped me bring it to life on paper. This whole journey has been a learning process for me, but all worth it in the end.
The name “Empanada Fork” just came naturally from the start. I believe it was the best way to describe it at first, but then I just really liked it. I actually have two design patents on [the] Empanada Fork utensil and I chose the best one to do a prototype in order to start the manufacturing process.
NJF: What is your favorite kind of empanada?
Lopez: I do love them all, but my favorite would have to be the fried shredded chicken empanadas.
NJF: Where do you sell the Empanada Fork?
Lopez: Through my website which is empanadafork.com. Some retail stores carry them as well: Chef Central in New Jersey; Bakedeco and Lebron Restaurant Supply in New York and Libby ‘n Leaf in North Carolina.
NJF: What is a typical day like for you working part-time as a Union Service Supervisor and being a business owner?
Lopez: Wake up 6:45 am; eat breakfast and put a load of laundry in every day; Work 8-4 pm three days a week; Gym after work.Come home to finish the laundry load. My husband prepares dinner and I do the dishes. We all eat together as a family around 7:30 pm. [To squeeze in time for business], I go on the computer throughout the entire day for my business and take calls. My employer is very supportive. On the two days off during [the] week is when I attend events and make appointments.
NJF: Women inventors hold 7 percent of US patents and less than 1 percent are held by Latina inventors. What is most important to you about being a role model for young girls and women?
Lopez: Honestly, when I found out the stats, at first I could not believe the percentages. I was very upset about this and vowed to share my story with others in order to hopefully motivate more women, especially Latinas to invent. I believe that most women are the problem solvers in a household, but sometimes we don’t take the time to really go after the unthinkable. We let fear and doubt get in the way. I do participate more in schools and enjoy speaking to college students as much as I do grade school children in order to motivate them at an early age, which is so important. I want to make sure young girls know that you can invent while you pursue your goals in life and make your mark on history.
NJF: What advice do you have for other moms or women who are looking to start a business or invent?
Lopez: If you try to wait for the perfect time to start a business, you’ll never do it, so go for it and trust your gut instincts. It’s very important to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs following their passions, dreams and purpose. Be patient, because success does not always happen overnight. Lastly, not everybody has to understand your journey in life and that’s perfectly okay.
Want to see more awesome NJ mom bosses? Check out their stories here.