The origin of the Empanada Fork

Picture this: a young woman, Hipatia Lopez, is hosting a holiday party and working furiously to get her festive spread ready in time. Her husband is in the kitchen, frantically whipping up 100 empanadas to serve, a party favorite of the Lopezes’. Lopez enlists the help of her three children to seal 100 empanadas, a task she comes to find as dauntingly time-consuming. Then, inspiration strikes.

“I jokingly stated, ‘I am going to invent a utensil to help me,’” recalled Lopez. As she and her kids laughed off the frustration-based epiphany, Lopez could not get the idea out of her head.

“I found myself thinking about that 24/7,” she said. “I decided to do some research online and eventually decided to contact a patent lawyer, and the journey began.”

That journey led to Lopez’s business, H.L. Unico LLC, better known as Empanada Fork. It is the utensil that Lopez desperately needed during her empanada party prep. Now, she has the perfect tool to press and seal those empanadas quickly and easily.

“I instantly thought there was a market for Empanada Fork,” she said, noting the rising popularity of empanadas, from food trucks to restaurants that solely serve the bite-sized delicacies.

Lest you think the Empanada Fork is only useful on its namesake, think again.  The utensil can be used on anything ranging from mini calzones to apple turnovers.

It wasn’t an easy start for the utensil, however, as Lopez is quick to point out she had no grasp on what turning her light bulb moment into a reality would entail.

“I am not an engineer and could not draw. I did my best sketch and found an architect who brought it to life on paper. This whole journey has been a learning process for me, but it’s all been worth it in the end.”


The Empanada Fork

Consulting with a patent attorney, Lopez secured two design patents for the utensil and chose the best one to turn into a prototype to manufacture. As for the name, clear simplicity beat out any sort of embellished moniker: Empanada Fork just came naturally.

As a small business owner, Lopez has been contending with the obstacles that face many of her fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s harder to get into big box stores than I thought it would be,” she said. “Since I am a small business, it is really hard to have stores give me an opportunity. Marketing has been challenging for me as well, and I’ve relied mostly on social media due to limited resources.”

But there are some great benefits and perks that come along with being an entrepreneur.

“When I get a phone call and my customers speak directly to me, they get really excited that it’s actually me on the phone. I absolutely love connecting with my customers.”

If there’s one thing Lopez’s story signifies, it’s that no matter how small the business may be, nothing can trump a big idea.

Small Business Profile