Photos Courtesy of Calavera, and Ashley Andrus.
Delicioso! This past weekend Carolina STYLE Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with Kenneth Yowell and Lily Ballance, the outgoing and welcoming owners of Calavera, an empanada and tequila bar. Calavera opened its doors in September 2011 and is conveniently located in Downtown Raleigh on Blount St.
From the moment you enter Calavera, the establishment is eye catching and intriguing not only because of the friendly and attentive staff, but because of the beautiful bright red walls which are decorated with Christmas ornaments and Day of the Dead designs; guests are in for a treat each time they dine or sip cocktails at Calavera.
Ken and Lily kindly answered some of our questions and offered us a tasting of their delicious and authentic empanadas.
Carolina STYLE Magazine: What is the inspiration behind the name ‘Calavera’?
Ken Yowell: Calavera actually means skull…sugar skull, which guests will see throughout the restaurant with the Day of the Dead decorations. Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that brings together families and friends that gather to celebrate and remember the lives of their loved ones who have died. We stay true to the Mexician traditions and decorations… even the artwork is from artists in Mexico.
CSM: Can you explain the choice behind having a menu selection geared towards empanadas?
KY: Raleigh didn’t have a restaurant that was focused on empanadas or tequila. We wanted to introduce Raleigh to a higher quality of food and tequila at an affordable cost. Our empanadas are authentic to Mexico but we were creative with some of our empanadas for local residents, such as the Piggly Wiggly which is slow-smoked Carolina-style pulled pork.
CSM: Do you have a favorite empanada on the menu?
KY: Holy Frijoles, which is our vegetarian empanada.
Above: Holy Frijoles (the vegetarian empanada): Seasoned black beans, roasted sweet potatoes and Oaxacan cheese
CSM: Most people think about pairing food with wine. Here at Calavera guests can pair empanadas with tequila. Why was tequila chosen as the pairing?
KY: There aren’t any tequila bars in the area so we wanted locals to experience the different selections of tequila and the different flavors. We want guests to have a positive experience about tequila and eliminate some of the stereotypes that go along with tequila.
CSM: How many different varieties of tequila do you offer?
KY: We offer over 32 different types of tequila.
CSM: Being a tequila bar, are there any late night music or events held at Calavera?
Lily Balance: Our bar area is very popular at night with local residents. In our bar area, guests are more than welcome to dance to the Salsa music of our DJ, which they do and it is always a fun time. We also have dancers that come in and perform on our Latin nights so that is very entertaining for guests.
CSM: Are there any specialty drinks offered at Calavera?
KY: Yes, we offer a seasonal rotating menu for guests to choose from; some of the drinks are based on the season the menu is currently in.
LB: Also, all of our juices are freshly squeezed daily by our staff. We do not use any concentrated juices. Using freshly squeezed juices allow our cocktails to have a natural sweet taste which is refreshing.
CSM: What is the secret to the success of Calavera?
KY: I think the success of Calavera is offering Raleigh and surrounding areas a restaurant that is different from the surrounding restaurants. We are also open until 2 AM every day so we fill a void of fresh food being offered late at night.
CSM: What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
KY: I enjoy being my own boss.
LB: It’s true. There’s nothing like coming to work every day and enjoying your job. We both help out in the restaurant on a daily basis and I see myself in the industry for a very long time.
CSM: What would you like for STYLE readers to know about Calavera?
LB: We would like for STYLE readers to know that we are a great restaurant with fresh ingredients that offers great authentic food and drinks.
KY: There is no restaurant in the area like Calavera. At Calavera we do two things: empanadas and tequila. Our food is delicious and we take pride in each dish that is created (each) day.
Calavera Empanadas & Tequila Bar
Location: 444 South Blount Street Suite 101, Raleigh, NC 27603
Contact: (919) 617-1661
Monday – Friday: 11:00 – 2:00 AM
Saturday & Sunday: 5:00 PM – 2:00 AM
For more information: http://calaveraraleigh.com/