José and Elsa Pimentel opened Pikalo Empanadas and Sandwich Bar earlier this year, and today, the Hyde Square restaurant serves a diverse array of empanadas to a community equally as unique.
This is not the first foray into the restaurant industry for chef-owner José Pimentel, whose first Pikalo location in Lawrence established his concept as an empanada eatery, while also building name recognition.
Ultimately, though, the Pimentel’s knew they wanted to expand to Jamaica Plain, and so when a location opened up that was within their price range, they jumped at the opportunity to open a second venue in the area.
“The neighborhood is extremely diverse,” said Elsa, who spearheads front of house management. “That’s what attracted us to the area. We get customers from all different walks of life, from students to young families to families who have lived in the area for 30 years. It’s a very mixed and very diverse population–and we knew the area so well that we just felt comfortable.”
Everything at Pikalo is made from scratch, as per his mother’s instruction. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, José learned to cook at home, and at the age of 15 began selling his empanadas from a pushcart in his hometown. Today, Elsa describes Pikalo’s offerings as traditional Dominican fare with a twist.
This twist is on full display when you order their most popular empanada lovingly named, the “Big Papi”. The Big Papi boasts a melange of eggplant, seafood, meat, cheese, and spinach all encased within their housemade, flakey dough. Traditional? Not exactly, but Elsa said that’s all part of Pikalo’s larger vision in the community.
“The most rewarding part is being able to introduce some cultural food–with somewhat of an American twist–to a new community,” she said. “People have been absolutely amazing so far. We have a lot of returning customers even though we’ve only been open for a very short time.”
It’s not too difficult to see why. When you walk into Pikalo JP, you’re greeted with a cohesive aesthetic that betrays owner Jose’s desire to turn his two-store eatery into a syndicated chain. He said his goal is to open five locations in the Boston area, with the hopes of eventually licensing the Pikalo brand to other enterprising entrepreneurs.
Pikalo’s interior is decidedly animated. Thematically orange with cork-board stools lining its slick black bar, it’s food is equally ebullient. Oatmeal smoothies and virgin mojito lemonades complement a bevy of enchiladas and patacones–a Dominican sandwich that substitutes fried plantains for bread.
Currently, the patacones are the restaurant’s main gluten-free option, but José is working on introducing more options to suit his patrons dietary needs.
The Pimentels have big dreams for their nascent eatery, but if their dedication to the business is any indication of their future success, we might be seeing more Pikalo’s everywhere from Allston to Back Bay.
They’ll have to overcome a string of restaurant failures in that 378 Centre St. location. Recent, short-lived efforts have included The Goods JP and Slice O’ Pie. Before that, the corner was known as the home of la Pupusa Guanaca, a well-known Salvadoran restaurant that closed amid numerous health violations.
José works six days a week at Pikalo–he allows himself one day off on Sunday–while Elsa holds down another job while helping to grow their business.
“You don’t have a personal life when you open a new business,” said José, with a half-cracked smile that betrayed his labor of love. “No parties, no nothing. It’s a lot.”
378 Centre St.