Hola Arepa: Latin American Cuisine At It’s Finest

Latin American Cuisine

Christina Nguyen and Birk Stefan Grudem are the proud creators and owners of Hola Arepa, the Minneapolis born food truck and brand new Latin American cuisine restaurant on 35th and Nicolette in South Minneapolis. Tara and I were lucky enough to enjoy a quick bite and drinks there a few weeks ago and, after having such a good experience, we’re excited to get to know Christina, Birk and Hola Arepa a little better!

Lating American Cuisine - Hola Arepa Minneapolis Latin American Drink Latin American Cuisine - Dinner     Latin American Cuisine Restaurant

Photo Via Hola Arepa Website
Photo From www.HolaArepa.com

Hi Christina and Birk,

We can’t wait to hear a little more about Hola Arepa. As a South American travel company, we were thrilled to learn that your Latin American cuisine inspired restaurant was opening in our neighborhood…

Q: Tell us a little bit about your journey – where are you from and how did you land in Minneapolis?
A: We were both born and raised in the Twin Cities.

Q: We’re big fans of your Central/South American vibe, where does this stem from? How did your experiences in the Southern Hemisphere influence the Hola Arepa concept in any way?
A: We’ve spent some time in Central and South America, so the design and food at Hola Arepa is definitely influenced by our travels there.  Without making it too kitschy or tropical themed, we wanted to create a space that was reminiscent of some of those weathered, sundrenched, rustic bars and cafés you would encounter somewhere in Latin America.

Q: How did you decide to start a food truck, what were the original items on the menu and how did this morph into a restaurant?
A: We had always wanted to start a restaurant, but since we didn’t have the capital to start one up, we decided to give opening up a food truck a shot since it was less risky and seemed like it would be fun since food trucks were still relatively new to Minneapolis.  We started by selling just a few different kinds of arepas every day on the food truck.  When we first started, arepas were something that a lot of people in the Twin Cities hadn’t tried before and were still new to a lot of people.  Then after three years of having the food truck, we decided to make the leap to brick & mortar, so we could offer our arepas to a wider audience and get to expand the menu more and offer craft cocktails.

Q:  Do you still operate the food truck in conjunction with the restaurant?
A: Because opening the restaurant was hectic and a ton of work, we wanted to concentrate on making it great, so we haven’t been able to bring the food truck out yet for the season.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to get the truck out a couple days of the week soon, or at least we’ll be able to by next year.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
A: Managing all of the different aspects of the restaurant has been difficult.  The food truck was a lot of work but there are so many facets to the restaurant that need attention.

Q: Where are arepas from, and how do they vary in those countries? (Ex: Are they the same in Venezuela as Colombia?)
A: Arepas are eaten in Venezuela and Colombia.  They are made and enjoyed in different ways from region to region even.  Some people eat them just with butter or cheese, some people fill them with shredded meats and other fillings.  Some are the size of an english muffin, some are flat and 8 inches across.

Q: In those countries, are arepas traditionally breakfast, lunch or dinner food? Is there any specific tradition or holiday associated with them?
A: Arepas are a staple food in Venezuela and Colombia and are eaten the way that bread is here, anytime of the day, depending on how you fill it.

Q: We know picking your favorite thing on the menu must be like having a favorite child, but there has to be a must eat that we can’t leave the place without biting into, right?
A: It is hard to choose a favorite, but lately my favorite meal is the beef & plantain arepa with yucca fries and chimichurri sauce to dip them in.  It has our spiced shredded beef, black beans, cotija cheese, fried sweet plantains and our signature hola sauce.  The yucca fries are tasty, especially with the herbacious and garlicky chimichurri sauce.

Q: Any weekly deals or happy hours we should be putting on our calendar? 
A: We have happy hour Tues through Fri from 3 to 6 and Sun through Thurs night from 10 to close.

Q: I’m sure running the newest hot spot in Minneapolis doesn’t leave much time for travel, but you can still dream can’t you? What’s top on your bucket list?
A: We would love to travel through Mexico more extensively and see even more of South America. We’ve been to quite a few Asian countries, but we’d love to see even more of it and dig deeper.

Nos Vemos, Lisa 

South America Travel - Lisa KellenbergerLisa is the Media Manager at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. She studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2012 and is continually planning her next adventure. Read Lisa’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.