Serving Success: Javi’s Cooking Journey
“I look around and I thank God I’m still standing, with so many businesses closing down. I arrived in this country 18 years ago, the same day I turned 23, with $700 in my pocket and a backpack full of dreams.”
Javier Sandes(Javi) is a multi-talented individual with a passion for cooking that runs in his family. Arriving to the United States from Buenos Aires 20 years ago, he discovered his love for the culinary art after a career ending injury playing soccer. To cope with this sudden change, he turned to the kitchen and began creating delicacies for his loved ones. In 2009, he co-founded and launched Primo’s Parilla with 3 partners, a mobile food business that specialized in authentic Argentine grilled meats, beef, chicken, pork, and fish, with the desire to open an Argentinian Steak House. Javi shared, “Although this was during the last recession, Primo’s Parrilla was one of the few food trucks in Emeryville, I remember it was us, John’s Street Eats, Ebbets Good to Go, Korean BBQ truck, and Liba Falafel (who, unfortunately, just closed shop for good due to COVID). The food truck movement was just getting started, and people were excited about a new thing.” With time, he expanded his business and launched Javi’s Cooking in August 2011.
Javi’s Cooking started out as a wholesale empanada and Argentinian BBQ catering service. At the launch of Javi’s Cooking, he rented a commercial kitchen at Kitchener Oakland to make empanadas for cafes, bars, and restaurants, as well as sell individually at pop up events. Between 2015-2016 he provided empanadas at his first wholesale account, Room 389, and other locations including Mad Oak Bar by Lake Merritt in Oakland. In 2017, Javi partnered with Dirty Bird Lounge in downtown Hayward, where he ran the kitchen until March 2018. 2018 proved to be a promising year when his big break came, and he landed a major contract with the Oakland Coliseum. He built his own empanadas stand on section 133 and served empanadas at A’s and Raiders games during that entire season. Javi stated, “It’s the first-time empanadas hit a ballpark and they for sure became very popular.” His empanadas became a fan favorite and gained a feature in the San Francisco Street Food Festival.
In 2018, PCV had the pleasure of meeting Javi through Dale Marie Golden from Bridge Bank in Oakland as he sought to expand his business by opening a brick and mortar in West Oakland. At that time, he experienced challenges with obtaining capital from his traditional bank due to them deeming his loan request as too small and his business being too new. This is where PCV was able to step in and provide Javi with an initial $100,000 loan to open his brick and mortar. In July 2018, he found his West Oakland location and moved his operations there in November. “There’s nothing like having your own place,” Javi shared with us. In December 2018 he opened his shop, which took a few team members to run the equipment for production resulting in Javi hiring more team members to meet the demand. At the close of 2019, Javi had 125% job growth from the year prior and Javi’s Cooking met three of PCV’s criteria for a “Good Jobs” business: direct deposit, employee benefits, and retirement benefits.
March 2020 marked a crucial time for business owners as the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, and Javi’s business suffered as many businesses did. He lost 90% of his wholesale business, including schools, stadiums, events/festivals, and catering companies. However, Javi remained focused and continued to look for business opportunities. Despite the challenges, his business saw 20%-30% growth each year during the pandemic by selling essential products and acting as a grocery. He applied for multiple loans during this time including the PPP, SBA, EIDL and he secured the PPP loan which gave him the opportunity to focus on other projects while ensuring expenses such as payroll, rent, PG&E, water, internet, security, and trash was covered. After overcoming the challenges faced during the pandemic, Javi’s aspiration to launch a new location found support from PCV. In 2022, as a part of PCV’s Oakland Restorative Loan Fund, PCV was able to provide him with another $50,000 loan to facilitate his expansion into a new location Downtown Oakland, marking a significant milestone in his business. The loan not only provided the necessary capital needed for Javi’s new location but also continued a strategic partnership with PCV that empowers him to navigate unchartered growth with even more confidence.
Javi’s goal is to expand and open more locations throughout the Bay Area. To achieve this, he is seeking the right partners, employees, and investors who share his vision, work ethic, and ideas. By doing so, he hopes to create more job and partnership opportunities within the community, while providing culinary training to kids. With a monthly output of 100,000 empanadas, Javi’s Cooking offers over 15 different varieties of empanadas ranging from traditional meats to vegan and dessert options. Through these efforts Javi is not only expanding his reach, but also making a positive impact on the community. Javi shared, “I look around and I thank God I’m still standing, with so many businesses closing down. I arrived in this country 18 years ago, the same day I turned 23, with $700 in my pocket and a backpack full of dreams. I wasn’t scared about not speaking English. I put myself into school to learn English, found a job after 3 days and I started my own story in this country. I met the nicest people, many of which became family later. I was creating opportunities and making new friends every day. When you put all the time and effort into the right things, it will pay off. I know I will keep building great new things.”