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Article updated: 12/9/2013 5:49 AM

Elgin father, son changing your movie snack menu

By Elena Ferrarin

There's nothing like sitting down in a dark movie theater, getting ready to watch a great film while chowing down on some popcorn, hot dogs and ... empanadas?

Empanadas -- a pastry stuffed with anything from meats to pizza ingredients to sweets -- made by Rria Foods, owned by Elgin businessman Kevin Echevarria, 26, and his father, Pedro, are being sold on a trial basis at Classic Cinemas' Charlestowne 18 in St. Charles.

"Empanadas are about to become mainstream," Kevin Echevarria said. "In Chicago more people know it, and also in places like Miami. It's like the burrito. It picked up in certain locations and then it spread like wildfire."

Rria Foods produces meat-filled empanadas, but in countries like Mexico, they're also made with sweet, dessert-like fillings.

Charlestowne 18 general manager Randy Pollock said Rria Foods' empanadas, which made their theater debut Friday, are the only nontraditional movie fare on the menu. The St. Charles location has a varied clientele that includes Latinos, but that wasn't the determining factor, Pollock said.

The Classic Cinemas corporate office picked St. Charles as a test site because it's the busiest among its 13 theaters in Illinois, and it has the freezers, ovens and other equipment needed to serve the empanadas, he explained.

"We would like to introduce it to a couple more theaters as long as the test pans out," he said. "We did a taste test a few weeks ago for staff, and they were all raving about it, although teenagers always rave about free food."

The Echevarrias used to own Delicia Tropical Cafe in Elgin. They sold it in November 2012 to launch their new venture under the umbrella of PKE Enterprises Inc.

"The vision has always been (owning) many enterprises, many different businesses," Echevarria said. "We're a busy-bee type of family. My mother likes to be involved in everything we do, my father is a busy man, I like to say active. It's just how we are."

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain praised Echevarria's entrepreneurial spirit during his annual State of the City speech last week to members of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I think that's what the essence of being a businessman is -- you have to be adaptable," Kaptain said.

Rria Foods has 10 employees that produced their first order of empanadas in August, Echevarria said.

The company supplies some restaurants and gas stations in Elgin and elsewhere, but the ultimate goal is to get into grocery stores, a process that requires FDA-approved packaging with nutritional and ingredients information, Echevarria said.

"We've come up with a manufacturing process where we can (have) mass-produced, homemade-style products, and streamline it to a point where we can still use 100-percent beef, pork and chicken. We use real ingredients."

The idea of selling to movie theatres came almost by chance.

"As I was out there pounding the pavement, finding locations for our product, I just decided to call the theaters and make appointments," Echevarria said.

Rob Novak, director of concessions for Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatre Corp., said the company -- which has a theater in Elgin -- recently conducted an employee taste test of Rria Foods' empanadas. Marcus owns 55 movie theatres throughout the Midwest.

"We're not ruling out the possibility of adding it," he said. The company will make a decision sometime next year, he said.

Meanwhile, Echevarria said he's working on plenty of other possibilities, including a meeting with Goya Foods representatives next week in Puerto Rico. "God plays a big role in how things line up," he said.

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