How it began
In 2010, Jorge Flores, founder of Cassava, opened up a small cafe in Central Lakeview, Chicago. The main item on the menu was pão de queijo (as it's know in Brazil), or pan de yuca (as it's know in Ecuador and Colombia).
These little rolls, made with cassava-root flour and cheese, are a favorite in South America. Chewy, comforting, savory, and gluten-free, they quickly caught on with Chicagoans and became a staple snack for locals, especially those with Celiac Disease, wheat allergy, and gluten-intolerance. The dough has a specific, unbeatable texture and ability to absorb flavor. And because it has not been modified and processed like wheat flour has, it doesn't contain the myriad preservatives and chemicals you find in every day wheat products.
Wait. Back up. What is cassava?
Cassava is a tropical plant with a tuberous edible root. Cassava-root starch is similar to potato starch, but better. It is also known as yucca, tapioca, or manioc. Many people in the US have never heard of it, but it is a major crop in South America, Africa, and South East Asia.
After Jorge saw how much customers responded to the pão de queijo, he started to wonder what else he could do with the dough. Because gluten-free customers reported struggling to find fast, affordable, healthy dining options, Jorge wanted to create something substantial enough to be a meal, that could be eaten sitting down or on-the-go.
And the gluten-free empanada was born.
Cassava's gluten-free empanadas are truly unique. Empanadas are common in South and Central America, but empanadas made with pão de queijo dough are native to Chicago. With the initial concept developed, Jorge began developing the fillings, meticulously crafting flavor combinations and balanced nutritional profiles.
The special empanadas caught on fast and Cassava grew. Once a one-man operation, Cassava now has a small staff and their empanadas are now available in Chicago area grocery stores and shipped to homes across the country.
There is one overarching theme to Cassava's food: Unprocessed. Cassava doesn't shy away from fats, specially healthy fats, and they don't count calories. But they avoid artificial anything like the plague, and make make it all themselves, using ingredients you can pronounce.
"I grew up in Ecuador in a household where home cooked meals made with fresh ingredients were a daily routine. That background combined with a natural passion for nutrition and a desire to own my own business lead me to start Cassava. We make everything from scratch and we fuse South American style empanadas with American flavors (e.g. bacon, egg and cheese)."
No Oxidized Oils
Cassava cooks using ONLY 100% organic coconut oil or real butter. Coconut oil has a neutral flavor, which is great, but most importantly, it is heat stable. When you cook with polyunsaturated vegetable oils (think canola, corn, and soy), oxidized cholesterol is introduced into your system. As the oil is heated and mixed with oxygen, it goes rancid which promotes vascular disease.
Is it safe for Celiacs?
What else makes your empanadas stand-out?
Grass-fed beef: We are grass-fed fanatics. Our beef & cheddar empanada and our chili are all made with grass-fed beef. To us it is an ethical, culinary, and nutritional imperative. Read more here.
High Protein: Our empanadas have a high protein to carb ratio, which means you'll stay fuller longer. The meat varieties have upwards of 14g of protein each. This comes from our high quality fillings and the cheese which we incorporate into the dough.
Fresh Veggies: All our veggies are chopped fresh in house. If you've come to see us at our Clark St. location, you've surely seen us hard at work.
Sea Salt: We only use sea salt, which has nearly 60 trace minerals naturally. Refined table salt is missing almost all of them. In addition, conventional salt contains anti-caking chemicals, sugar, and potassium iodide. You don't want that in your body, so we don't put it in our food.
How to ID your empanadas
The toppings actually indicate the filling inside, so, if you get confused, you can use this guide to help sort things out.
You're a part of our story
Customers are the heart and soul of Cassava. Our regular customers keep us going and we meet new regulars every single day. We have a few home delivery options as well as catering, or you can come to the cafe and meet us in person.