TEANECK, N.J. — The most common question that Ayda Tellez Arciniegas gets when she and her Hackensack family members are feeding guests in their Colombian Teaneck restaurant is also the only one she refuses to answer: "how do you make the sauce?"
The spicy, oniony, green sauce — that is — comes on the side of every empanada order at Cedar Lane's Sal y Pimienta and is a secret family recipe that Arciniegas brought to the United States when she immigrated with her husband and children from Colombia in 1999.
She put her homemade delicacies to the test last winter when she fulfilled her lifelong dream and opened her restaurant. The only challenge, she said, is remembering everyone's orders.
"It's difficult to recognize everybody," said Arciniegas, who makes everything from scratch with help from her husband, German Arciniegas, in the kitchen.
"The people like when you recognize their exact favorite and they all think I know," Arciniegas said. "I'm trying."
Arciniegas paused conversation to greet newly-regular customer and Colombian immigrant, Oscar, with a buenos dias.
The owner spends 14 hours a day preparing traditional menu items and inventing new empanada flavors like Nutella cheesecake and apple pie.
She also lets patrons create their own empanadas — like picadillo, sweet plantains and cheese by Teaneck resident Alex Botwinick — and will half-bake them so they won't be overdone when customers reheat them at home.
Keeping Sal y Pimienta running as it should requires time and effort the Arciniegas is happy to provide, her daughter said.
"My parent started it all," said Natalia Ledermann over the Colombian music coming through over the speakers. "It's been their dream and it's awesome to see it come to fruition."
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