The empanada makers, however, faced one big hurdle to expanding their business, specifically if they wanted to include meat and poultry in their empanada selections: compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture and Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets requirements.
A look at their menu finds 10 varieties of empanadas with meat and chicken featured prominently in several. Part of the attraction for customers at the farmers market tent or on pop-up nights is the variety of fillings matched with several dipping sauces.
Vendors of meat and poultry products are subject to strict licensing requirements and regulations by both federal and state codes. To apply for a license, McCabe and de Achaval first had to find a kitchen that met all of the specifications for a meat processing facility—including a walk-in cooler or freezer, washable walls and floors, a dedicated hand-washing sink, and appropriate separation from other kinds of spaces, according to the state’s Meat Inspection Service guidance documents.
No such facility existed in Waterbury, where McCabe and de Achaval, partners both personally and professionally, live and raise their family. A search throughout the state for an appropriately sized kitchen that fit the bill—without breaking the bank—similarly turned up empty. Most options were meant to accommodate a full staff and a much larger scale of production.
Their nascent catering company just wasn’t there yet.
Around the same time, Grenier went from leasing the Stowe Street Cafe space to purchasing the building with her husband, John. McCabe, de Achaval, and Grenier admitted that they can’t quite remember how the idea came about, but the three soon began scheming to turn the cafe’s basement kitchen into just the kind of prep kitchen Paprika Catering needed in the place they most wanted to be.
“We work in this community, we live in this community, we’re raising our children here. We wanted to be in Waterbury,” said McCabe.
De Achaval added, “Stowe Street Cafe is the perfect spot.”
‘Intense, really specific, and highly supervised’
While Grenier attended to the kitchen renovations, McCabe and de Achaval set to work on the licensing application and documentation. Grenier recalled that when representatives from the state Agency of Agriculture came for an initial inspection, they expressed skepticism that a very old basement in a very old building (constructed c.1885) could be successfully brought into compliance. Nevertheless, they continued to check in on the renovations and offered advice along the way. “They were amazing people,” said de Achaval.
De Achaval also worked closely with food consultant Tyler Cook to understand the government requirements. Cook, whose food consulting business is based in South Burlington, has worked exclusively in the meat industry since 2011 and became a Master Meat Crafter in 2018 at the University of Wisconsin.
In an email to Waterbury Roundabout, Cook explained that “Making delicious food comes naturally to talented people like Jacqueline, but navigating the governmental requirements does not.”
Cook examined Paprika’s process and translated that into a working plan that would satisfy state and federal regulators. That helped close the gap between de Achaval and McCabe’s professional knowledge and regulators’ expectations.
State and federal regulations are so specific that they actually help organize the business, according to Grenier. “It’s intense, really specific, and highly supervised. Everything requires documentation—from changes in delivery drivers to the regular testing of product,” she said.
For example, if Stowe Street Cafe staff use—or even enter—the kitchen while Paprika Catering is in operation, the latter’s regulations take precedence.
“Paprika has a license where the product will reach more people, so avoiding cross-contamination is so important,” de Achaval explained.
To that end, Grenier added that the cafe is intentionally not doing any meat prep in the downstairs kitchen to avoid any questions.
After all of the planning and attention to detail, the new kitchen passed its final inspection in March. “They were pretty blown away that we pulled this off,” Grenier laughed, referring to the various inspectors. “Paprika has set the bar, putting the Agency of Agriculture, Health Department, and USDA back on their heels.”
All of this has taken place very much behind—or below—the scenes at the cafe. To customers stopping in for coffee and a scone or lingering at a table over lunch, the prep kitchen space and activity is invisible. While the cafe’s open kitchen hums with activity and staff chat with patrons at the counter, it’s very possible that McCabe and de Achaval are downstairs turning out empanadas by the dozen.
Cook acknowledged that he is very impressed with the use of space below the cafe. “It seems like Paprika and Stowe Street Cafe found a good balance of needs that allowed them to develop unused space and support multiple local businesses,” he said. “They listened to exactly what the USDA told them was necessary and designed a tight, efficient space.”