Anyone from around Dane County knows that the Madison Farmers’ Market is a staple of the Saturday morning experience. And, if you are like me, you like to plan your route for food while strolling around the square. One popular stop for market-goers is the Caracas Empanadas food cart on the corner of King and Main Street. You might also recognize them from numerous festivals around town like Art Fair on the Square or the Taste of Madison. Open since 2010, the portable delicacies from Caracas Empanadas became a staple of Madison food cart-goers, and in 2017 Caracas Arepas food cart opened.
Caracas Empanadas, and Arepas, are two food carts owned by Luis Dompablo and his partner in life and business, David Piovanetti. Priding themselves on fresh, local, authentic ingredients, they produce delicious products from Dompablo’s Venezuelan culture. And that’s not mentioning the addictive and mouth-watering sauces (namely the green guacaca—my personal favorite).
For Luis, opening a food cart was not the plan he had for his life and his family. Originally hailing from Venezuela, Luis has made Madison his home since the 1980s. He was a horticulturist and had a successful business until the Bush recession. But, like many small businesses at the time, he couldn’t keep operating and had to close his doors.
Luis didn’t have a culinary focus in his life, and didn’t cook much himself. Thankfully though, culinary history ran in his family as his father used to have a restaurant back in Venezuela. Dompablo has three children, and he wanted to be able to share their heritage and culture through food but, who do you turn to when you don’t know where to start? Luis turned to his mother and asked, “How do I cook this?” With her help, he was able to recreate some of his father’s recipes and start to share his culture with his children and friends.
“These are delicious, you HAVE to sell these,” were comments constantly being made by friends and family. Suddenly the thought of baking with love to share his culture blossomed into a business venture. “In the beginning, it was just Luis and I,” David described. At the time of its inception, Piovanetti was a high school teacher and had summers off. “This was perfect for both bringing us closer together and working together to build the business.” First meeting each other in 2006, and then building the business together, Dompablo and Piovanetti married in 2013.
With the now two popular carts, what could be next? Dompablo shared that they will be part of the Madison Public Market, set to open on East Washington Avenue. “We have been in talks about this since 2017.” For those unfamiliar, the Public Market will house brick-and-mortar sites for local small businesses. Caracas Empanadas, and more, will be one of 12 food spaces operating in the complex. This is giving Dompablo the opportunity of turning his cuisine from portable, to plated fare and expanding his business even further. With a potential opening planning for Fall of 2022, keep watching for more updates from Caracas Empanadas and the Madison Public Market.
Other than local festivals, you can find Caracas Empanadas and Arepas on the corner of King Street and Main, and weekdays at the Library Mall. “We also do private catering for anyone who wants to rent the cart,” Dompablo was sure to add.
Any way you package it, Caracas Empanadas and Arepas have become a delicious staple of the Madison food culture. If you love authentic Latin cuisine where you can taste the love and culture it was deprived from, be sure to give them a try. Speaking from experience, you will not be disappointed! Oh, and ask for extra sauce!