Pinterest Google+


This weekend, Famous DC attended the 2nd Annual Launch Pad Grand Finale– a culinary business competition created by Union MarketMess Hall, and RIS owner Ris Lacoste. After several hours of tasting, drinking, pitching, and even some tears, Arepa Zone took home the grand prize.

What’s at stake? The winner receives a 6-12 month takeover of a fully-built stall in Union Market’s highly sought after retail space.

Finalists Arepa ZoneBao Bros BarHalf SmokeWhisked!, and Bene set up pop-up shops and distributed bites of their best culinary offerings. Later, they pitched their original business concepts to a panel of judges, including restaurant mavens Patrick O’ConnellAaron SilvermanDrew NieporentDavid HallAl Goldberg and Ris Lacoste. The judges factored in criteria including taste, presentation, packaging, profitability, marketability, and the like. Additionally, a People’s Choice vote would count towards each finalist’s point total. A few of the contestants already have an established retail or wholesale business, while others only exist in theory. After an afternoon of heart-felt deliveries from the 5 contestants, we were won-over (and well fed) by each one. In the end, the judges decided Arepa Zone had the best chance of success.

“We were looking for innovation, but also a scalability: we wanted a business that we could envision growing with Union Market,” Mess Hall Founder Al Goldberg said.


Arepa Zone is a Venezuelan inspired food truck that launched just over a year ago here in DC. They’ve already received honors and accolades such as Best New Food Truck and Food Truck of the Year at the 2014 Curbside Cookoff Food Truck Awards. The Washington Post Express Best of 2014 named the young business Best South/ Central American food truck. Owners Gabriela Febres and Ali Arellano serve authentic Venezuelan dishes such as stuffed arepas, cachapas, and tequeños.

“We are so thrilled,” Febres said. “Serving arepa is our way of bringing the Venezuelan community together, and we are honored to be able to share that community with Union Market.”


Arepa will now try their hand in Union Market which they tell us will function similarly to their food truck, but in a sedentary space. As an additional component to their prize, the company will receive a mentorship from award winning restaurateur and local celebrity, Ris Lacoste. Arepa Zone will open at Union Market by August 31.

Congratulations to Arepa Zone on their hard-earned victory and thank you to all the other competitors for sharing your concepts with us. We hope to see you around!