Juan Brandan and Augusto Araoz have their eyes set on the "cumbre," that is “the highest point, greatest degree, intensity, perfection, greatness in something, top of the mountain or summit,” according to Brandan’s translation of the original Spanish.
That mindset has not only inspired the two men to start their own business, a coffee shop and bakery, but name it Cumbre.
The bakery, which opened on Nov. 1, is inspired by the flavors of their hometown of San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina.
“The idea came to bring some traditional and unique flavors from our country and to show to the people here what we have to offer from our country and city in particular,” Brandan told The Daily Progress.
Their unassuming, brick storefront does little to convey the flavors and culinary creativity inside the 480-square-foot building on East Jefferson Street in downtown Charlottesville. The menu boasts alfajores, a type of dulce de leche cookie coated in shredded coconut or chocolate; medialunas, a cross between brioche and croissant; facturas, pastries filled with cream, dulce de leche and quince paste; and classic empanadas.
The bakery was previously home to Charlottesville Barbering & Styling, which closed several years ago. The day it came up for lease, Brandan called the realtor who said it wasn’t just available but could transform into whatever vision the next owner had in mind.
At the time, that vision was still a little murky for Brandan and Araoz.
“We said yes to the place without even knowing what we were going to make with it,” said Brandan with a laugh. “We just knew we wanted to bring empanadas.”
They are no ordinary empanadas, however. Cumbre’s empanadas are made from the same recipe that won Argentina’s National Empanada Festival, according to Brandan.
The city of Famillá in the Tucumán province, not far from Brandan and Araoz’s hometown, has been the proud host of Argentina’s empanada competition held every September for more than 40 years. Culinary stars from each city in the country bring their regions’ unique empanada to determine the winner.
Each individual province has their own take on ingredients and style. Brandan explained how the empanada Tucumana does not contain ground beef, as that can dry out the pastry, the beef is instead sliced by hand. The empanada Cordobesa of Córdoba is typically stuffed with ground beef or pork, green olives, raisins and a hard-boiled egg seasoned with sugar, cumin and paprika, while the empanada Fugazzeta coming out of Buenos Aires is filled with mozzarella, provolone and sautéed onions cooked in oregano and black pepper.
As delicious as the culinary scene was, the economic conditions of Argentina drove the two young men out of San Miguel de Tucumán. However, they did not cross paths until they both landed in Miami, when a mutual friend connected them. Brandan, whose father’s family came to Argentina from Italy, moved to Miami by himself when he was 20 years old. After two years in Florida, Brandan spent a year in Los Angeles before coming to Charlottesville at the request of a friend who needed help at his restaurant. Brandan returned to the East Coast and invited Araoz to move up as well.
“I fell in love with Charlottesville because it’s kind of like the city where I grew up in Argentina, so I decided to stay,” Brandan said.
Despite only being open for a little more than a month, Cumbre’s owners are already thinking about grwoth. Their lease on East Jefferson will keep them there for the next five years, but Brandan mentioned plans to open spots up and down the East Coast and even out west one day.
But for now, the pair is taking it one day and one empanada at a time as they make their way to the "cumbre."