Nelly Mourelle said she makes her empanadas with a purpose.
Situated in an industrial area at 92 Mahan St. West Babylon, Nelly’s Artisan Argentinian Empanadas is the longtime dream of Mourelle, who is a guidance counselor by profession but a cook by passion.
“I did culinary arts 20 years ago back in my country in the Dominican Republic and food has always been a passion of mine,” Mourelle said. “I always wanted to do something in the food industry, but I couldn’t do it — I tried multiple times, but it was very hard.”
Before the pandemic, Mourelle began making empanadas at her home in Merrick and learned a different technique from her Argentinian husband.
Typically, empanadas are fried, but Mourelle fills them and bakes them. It took her over a year to perfect her recipe and her husband said she should start selling them, she said.
When the pandemic hit Long Island, Mourelle started working from home and no longer had to commute to Elmurst, which can be a three-hour commute.
With all the time on her hands, she decided to give her dream of opening up a commercial kitchen one more shot.
“The one up there, God, decided it was the time,” said Mourelle, pointing up to the ceiling in gratitude. “I got licensed quickly, I started producing and selling at the farmers market.”
The Deep Roots Farmers Market in Glen Cove is where Mourelle first introduced her empanadas, and today she is a market favorite.
All the hours she wasn’t commuting to her guidance counselor job, she was making empanadas and selling them at the farmers market.
Her year-long side hustle transformed into a more full-time gig, and last month she started operating her own storefront, Monday to Friday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Story continues after photo.
While fulfilling one passion, Mourelle was able to continue fueling another: helping others.
Right next to Nelly’s Empanadas is the Winter’s Center for Autism, a non-profit organization that works to enhance the lives of adults with autism through programs that promote job creation, training and placement to address the excessive unemployment rate among people with autism.
The center offers programs, such as working in a barbershop and learning how to cut hair, maintaining a sensory garden and growing hydroponic herbs, working in a hotel, and making empanadas with Nelly.
“Part of what I’m doing here is training adults with autism, some of them will learn the kitchen, some of them will learn how to work outside here serving customers, refilling, checking everything is restocked, cleaning,” Mourelle said. “I wish I can teach all day to them…that’s why I’m here, it’s not just a business to me.”
Mourelle’s empanadas are baked, not fried, and filled with various meat and vegetarian fillings: chicken and cheese, spicy carnitas, beef classico, caprese, and “Americanized” fillings, such as her Thanksgiving empanada, chicken pot pie, and hamburger.
She also sells a few baked goods, such as three Leche cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, and carrot cakes. She said those who come in and try her empanadas usually come back for more, which means a lot to her.
Every day she can’t help but pinch herself that her dream is now a reality.
“The director of the Winter Center and the Winter family believed in me,” she said. “It’s so hard to give an opportunity to someone with no experience. This is my first place, and I think they saw something in me. This place was made for me.”
Check out what Nelly’s Empanadas has to offer on her website here, and scroll down to view photos of her shop.
Top photo: Nelly Mourelle, owner of Nelly’s Empanadas.