If you ask Nelly Mourelle about her calling as an entrepreneur, she’ll tell you she’s not just running a small business — it’s a small business with enormous purpose. Since September 2022, Nelly’s Artisan Argentinian Empanadas in West Babylon has employed young adults on the autism spectrum. A commercial kitchen in the back and cafe out front, Nelly’s Empanadas is a tenant of the Winters Center for Autism, a nonprofit launched by the Winters Family Foundation. The goal of the Center is to have each tenant train and employ young adults with autism. It’s a responsibility Nelly embraces with open arms.
Nelly puts as much focus into her handmade empanadas as she does into helping the young adults who work at her store. Throughout the week, the students and their job coaches work alongside her to make empanadas, serve customers, restock supplies, and clean the kitchen.
“When they finish high school, many have nowhere to go,” Nelly said of the students. “Some of them cannot go to college, and some of them just want to work. They have so much passion, and they want to learn. …For me to be able to provide that opportunity with empanadas and be able to help them – I love it.”
Born in the Dominican Republic, Nelly is a trained chef and former school guidance counselor. She worked in Queens with kids who had varying disabilities, including autism. When the pandemic hit in 2020, she was forced to work from home, where she tapped into her life-long passion for cooking. She had studied culinary arts 20 years ago but had pursued other career opportunities. She held onto the dream of one day owning a food business, but as an immigrant, she faced multiple barriers to entry.
Nelly decided to try one more time, finally succeeding and obtaining a license for a commercial kitchen space in Amityville. In March 2021, she began selling empanadas at the year-round Deep Roots Farmers Market in Glen Cove.
Light and flaky with a wide variety of fillings, Nelly’s empanadas stand apart from greasy fast-food truck fare. Her husband, Jorge, and his family are from Argentina, so Nelly learned to perfect the Argentinian tradition of baking, not frying, empanadas. Each empanada is made from scratch with all-natural ingredients, and Nelly won’t compromise on the quality.
The first day at the Farmers Market, she sold out of empanadas within an hour.
“I was in shock because I wasn’t expecting that everybody would love it,” Nelly recalled. She became a regular who drew “crazy” long lines. “People were going to the market just for me…I couldn’t believe it!”
Seeing the success and demand, Nelly and Jorge began searching for a retail location. However, they had trouble finding something that was affordable and a good fit. One day, Jorge sent Nelly a listing for the Winters Center for Autism. The opportunity spoke to her immediately.
“I had the opportunity to work with adults with autism and be an employment partner of the Winters Center for Autism. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, this is made for me because I don’t want to leave my job [as a guidance counselor], but I want to do this, too.”
Nelly is still amazed at how her two paths of cooking and helping others converged, and she credits “divine intervention” for the timing.
When Trellus visited the store, we got a chance to talk to one of her loyal customers. Chris Cortale is a student who holds an administrative job at the Winters Center for Autism. He frequently comes over to see his friends and have lunch.
“Nelly’s so cheerful. She’s the sweetest person. She greets you with open arms,” said Chris. “The food’s delicious, and she helps people in the autism community.”
Expanding Opportunity with Trellus
A natural entrepreneur, Nelly is always looking at ways to expand her business. When she heard about Trellus Same-Day Local Delivery, she recognized another opportunity.
One of her key challenges is that her current location is in the middle of an industrial area. While there’s many employees in the vicinity, foot traffic has been a struggle. However, once people discover Nelly’s Empanadas, they often become regulars. Being able to reach loyal customers where they are — when they can’t always make it to the shop — is important to the business’s growth.
Like many food businesses, Nelly offers Uber Eats and DoorDash, but they’ve let her down repeatedly. “The customer service is terrible. They don’t follow through,” Nelly said, describing her frustration. “They tell you they’re gonna do something, they don’t do it. They have you on the phone for hours. Nothing gets done. I get frustrated because I’m a small business owner, and I wear seven hats. So I can’t spend three hours on the phone with them. I have so many other things to do!”
At one point, one of the delivery services took her old menu without her input and started selling empanadas she wasn’t currently making. Orders came in and customers were naturally disappointed.The worst part, Nelly said, is that people can associate delivery errors with her business.
“I see that Uber Eats and DoorDash just want to get customers and make the money because they get 30% of everything,” she said, referring to a 30% commission structure both services promote.
She’s found that Trellus offers a drastically different experience in customer service and a delivery fee structure that makes sense for her small business.
When Nelly has questions, she’s able to get in touch with Gianna Costantino, the Trellus account executive who helped her sign up. She believes Trellus is a delivery service provider who actually cares about her brand image.
“With Trellus, it’s more personal and it gets done. Uber Eats and DoorDash are just focused on making their 30%. They aren’t thinking about brand awareness and helping small businesses grow,” Nelly summarized.
One of her delivery customers is a craft beer store, Campground Craft Beer Market in Sea Cliff, whom she met through Deep Roots Farmers Market. The venue offers 10 taps and four fridges of beer, wine, and cider. They don’t have a kitchen, but instead offer a “delicious bar snack menu,” including Nelly’s Empanadas, a “local favorite.” Selections include the classic Beef and Potato, Chicken Fiesta, and vegetarian empanadas. Nelly’s product is fresh, never frozen. So when Campground Beer orders, they get a freshly made case of empanadas, which they refrigerate and reheat as needed.
Before Trellus, Nelly wasn’t delivering fresh trays of empanadas on a wholesale basis. So it was perfect timing when she discovered Trellus. The owners of Campground Beer had just asked Nelly if she could deliver her product, because Sea Cliff is about 50 minutes away from West Babylon. Nelly has just one full-time employee and a part-time worker who helps in the kitchen. She can’t afford to hire a full-time driver on staff and couldn’t make the time commitment to drive up the order.
Nelly recognized that Trellus could help her expand this vertical of her business in a way that made financial sense to her. With Trellus, she’s in in control of delivery fees. In this case, she passes on a predictable fee – which is not a commission fee or percentage of the sale – to Campground Beer. Nelly is then able to plan ahead and schedule a Trellus delivery to Sea Cliff. A driver is dispatched and the delivery is completed same-day. She receives an email confirmation with proof of delivery and uses that record to easily invoice her customer.
Nelly is interested in supplying to other venues on a similar basis, but has no plans to wholesale a frozen product at scale.
“I have an idea in my head of what my company is going to look like in a few years. If my product is mass produced everywhere, it’s not going to be the same experience. It won’t be the same flavor,” she explains. “We produce in small batches, we use fresh ingredients. We use good products and that’s why my product is good. We don’t cut corners and we don’t buy anything pre-made.”
Many of the vegetables and herbs in Nelly’s food are grown onsite in indoor planters. Each empanada is branded with “Nelly’s” and where possible, identified with lettering, such as “CF” for Chicken Fiesta.
Looking ahead, Nelly hopes to open a second retail location and employ more young adults with autism. She would love every town on Long Island to have a Nelly’s Empanadas and dreams of having a workforce comprised of 50% employees with autism and other disabilities.
No matter where Nelly’s journey leads, customers can be sure that she’ll continue to run a small business with a greater purpose. And Trellus will be there to support, as Nelly reaches more local customers and creates more opportunity.
Learn more about Nelly’s Empanadas at www.empanadas-nellys.com. Stop by for breakfast or lunch in person at 92 Mahan St. in West Babylon and order empanadas for your next special occasion with Delivery by Trellus!