Hipatia Lopez of Elmwood Park has an important message for other young, Latina entrepreneurs: Si se puede.
The mom of three invented the Empanada Fork -- a tool used to seal the stuffed pastry -- but admits she had no idea what she was doing when she began her entrepreneurial journey.
She vowed to herself that once she made it through, she'd share her story to motivate other entrepreneurs. Particularly Latinas, like herself, she said.
"Female inventors hold seven percent of U.S. patents and less than one percent are held by Latina inventors," said Lopez, a Garfield native.
"Honestly, when I found out the stats, I could not believe the numbers."
Lopez was sitting at her kitchen table at her Elmwood Park home sealing her umpteenth empanada shut before a holiday party at her house when the idea for an Empanada Fork struck her.
"I am going to invent a utensil to help me do this," said Lopez, who is Ecuadorian.
At the time, it was just a joke. But Lopez couldn't seem to shake the idea of an empanada sealer.
"I believe that most women are problem-solvers in a household, but sometimes we do not take the time to really go after the unthinkable," she said. "We let fear and doubt get in the way."
Getting started was difficult for Lopez. She didn't have a clue of what any of it would entail.
"I am not an engineer and can not draw," she said. "I did my best to sketch the utensil and found an architect that finally helped me bring it to life on paper."
She reached out to a patent lawyer, and finally, things started taking shape.
The name and the concept came naturally. Eventually, so did the product: A kitchen utensil that seals an empanada lickety-split, shaving off hours from the assembly process.
Using it is simple: Place the Empanada Fork over the pastry and push down on the handle. Then, place your hingers on the metal crescent, pushing down again for a neater seal. Flip the empanada over and do it again.
Empanada Forks retail for between $30 and $70.
Lopez recently rolled out "Pastry Filling Stampers," which are similar to Empanada Forks, but can be used on almost any baked good.
Lopez says her invention has helped her find her passion.
"I want to make sure young girls know that you can invent while you pursue your goals in life," she said, "and leave your name marked in history."
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