Maria Calovang didn’t see the rush of customers coming. She’d opened Boriken Mart earlier this month, and she had a number of regular customers stopping in for her Puerto Rican food, many who remembered her from her pop-up days.
It seemed a nice steady run of customers, many Puerto Rican, who ate and danced and told her how happy they were to have a place serving Puerto Rican food.
Then the rush came. In one day earlier this month, Boriken Mart completely ran out of food. She had stocked up for what she thought would be a month’s worth, and against all odds it was sold out within a day.
“It was overwhelming,” Calovang says. “It was awesome at the same time, but it was overwhelming.”
Calovang opened Boriken Mart at 514B Fulton Street, near the Wausau Oriental Market and on the same street as Tres Hermanos, on Dec. 3. The space had formerly been the site of Banh Mi before it moved to the north side of town.
Boriken got its start as a pop-up restaurant, first starting in the Kronenwetter Farmers Market in 2017. That later led to a spot in Weston Farmers Market, doing catering for the Harley Davidson store, popups in the Cedar Creek mall, to name just a few.
When she started, she wondered whether there were any other Puerto Ricans around, because she didn’t see them out and about. But the Boriken name, which means Puerto Rican heritage, served as a signal to other Puerto Ricans and they flocked to her pop-up restaurants.
Her main specialities are empanadas and pastelillos, a smaller empanada with a crimped edge. Calovang explains that there are as many as 47 different types of filled pastries, and the way the edge is made signals the type of filling inside.
She also offers vegan and gluten-free options, something she says there has been a strong demand for.
The menu also includes Jibarito Wagyu beef sliders, guava and cheese empanadas for dessert, chicaron mofongo, rellenos de papa (potato croquettes) and more.
Calovang says Boriken right now is primarily a takeout restaurant. Customers can either stop in, text their order or use the doordash app to order. That crazy sell out day had numerous doordash cars lined up outside the small mart.
Calovang herself was born in Brooklyn, but spent a lot of time in both the continental U.S. and in Puerto Rico as many of her family members still live there. She met her husband, who is Hmong was active in the military, and from Wausau. When he was no longer on active duty, they decided to move to his hometown of Wausau where it’s more affordable. “It’s so beautiful here,” Calovang told City Pages. “I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Calovang says she right now is focusing on running the small restaurant but she has big dreams. She’d like to one day open a full-service restaurant similar to those in Puerto Rico with a bar, a dancing area, a buffet, and a banquet area. “That’s my goal,” Calovang says. “So that way I can provide a Puerto Rican a job when they get here.”
Calovang was pretty busy preparing for the day when I arrived. She told me she’d been making empanadas until 2 am to prepare. If the past rush was any indication, she will be quite busy for a while.