DeRusha Eats: Hola Arepa

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Five years ago virtually no one in the Twin Cities had heard of an arepa. Now, thanks to one couple, arepas became a red hot food truck and a red hot restaurant.

This week, DeRusha eats at Hola Arepa at 35th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.

Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem aren’t married yet, but they’ve already given birth to their baby — the arepa.

And their business –Hola Arepa.

“It’s unique but also familiar,” Nguyen said.

“It’s not a taco, it’s not a sandwich,” Grudem said.

It’s a corn-meal based bread, kind of like a pita. Crispy outside and soft inside.

“Midwesterners love corn-based things. It’s super hearty and delicious,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen and Grudem’s arepa story started with their blazing turquoise food truck. Which has seen non-stop lines since June, 2011.

“Before the food truck I hadn’t had any professional experience cooking, but I’ve always loved to cook my whole life,” Nguyen said.

Her Vietnamese upbringing led to extremely bold flavors. Such as arepas filled with chorizo sausage and black beans, or roast pork and sweet potato.

Grudem brought his years as a successful Twin Cities bartender.

Bar experience that helped the business, and also helped him get the girl.

“Got her filled with enough booze to say yes,” Grudem joked of his proposal.

After years of people asking when Hola Arepa would become a restaurant, they finally opened nearly a year ago. And business has been almost non-stop.

“It’s been crazy. It’s been great,” Grudem said.

“It’s super-exciting and humbling to see that that people still want to eat our food. It’s always nice,” Nguyen said.

The larger space let Grudem create a full bar, with affordable cocktails that taste like summer. And the full kitchen lets Nguyen create more than just a handful of arepas.

“There are still people who still don’t know what it is, and that’s kind of awesome to be able to introduce something unfamiliar to people in the Twin Cities,” Nguyen said.

On a busy weekend day, they’ll serve more than 1,000 arepas. All created with love by a young couple who know a thing or two about love.

“We very rarely fight,” Grudem said.

“Not over food stuff,” Nguyen said, “Because you love everything I make.”

Nguyen and Grudem have been engaged for a while, but they say they’ll be married in September.

Hola Arepa also just began offering brunch. Brunch is now available on the weekend from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

More from Jason DeRusha
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