“Oh my God, oh my God, that’s Salvy,” one customer said to his friend as he ate a forkful of yellow rice at Empanada Madness on Monday afternoon.
Others quickly made eye contact with Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez and immediately looked back at their plates.
The waiter, who was wearing a blue Royals snapback cap, greeted Perez with a hug and sat him at a table near the front of the restaurant with two people Perez introduced as his “amigo y mama.” It wasn’t long before one giggly fan became the first of many to ask for a selfie.
When Empanada Madness opened on Southwest Boulevard in September 2013, Perez was one of its first customers.
And although the restaurant’s owner, Andrea Hall, didn’t know who he was at the time, Perez quickly became a part of the Empanada Madness family.
The Venezuelan restaurant is now a regular spot for Perez and other Royals players, including fellow Venezuelans Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante. While the restaurant is decorated with South American artwork, it’s also sprinkled with blue and gold “Forever Royal” and “Take the Crown” posters. Waiters often wear Royals T-shirts that have Perez’s number on the back.
The 25-year-old catcher is originally from Valencia, Venezuela, and he’s not shy about his love for Empanada Madness. He has posted Instagram photos about the restaurant.
Perez calls it “the best restaurant in Kansas City.”
Hall said the food mirrors a home-cooked meal and a comfort away from home for Perez and his teammates. Royals fans who want to catch a glimpse of Salvy in person even get to the restaurant early and wait for him to show up, Hall said.
Perez chatted with every fan who came up to his table Monday for a couple of minutes and posed for photos. The customers were also gracious and mindful of his personal time.
Perez declined to be interviewed at the restaurant.
“I’m not going to bother him since he just got his food,” said one female fan who kept looking over at his table every couple of minutes.
“OK, it’s now or never,” she said about five minutes later. She came back with an autograph on a small card for her son. She didn’t want to inconvenience Perez with a photo.
Hall said Perez is so comfortable at the restaurant now that “he’ll walk in the kitchen and get a plate like a regular employee.” He’ll even take orders to customers’ tables, a huge crowd-pleaser.
Hall added that she’ll frequently deliver him food at the stadium if he’s not able to make it to the restaurant.
If you miss seeing Royals players there, Empanada Madness has a special menu with items created by Royals players, like the “Perez #13,” which features three arepas, a corn cake stuffed with different fillings. His favorites? Domino, chicharron, sweet plantain and cheese. The “Escobar #2” features a bandeja paisa with an Estes egg, and the “Infante #14” consists of grilled chicken with white rice, black beans and plantains.
“They’re all good, really humble people,” Hall said. “I’m just glad that out of so many restaurants in KC, they pick us. They have the funds to go anywhere they want, but they choose to come here. That says a lot about them.”
The restaurant is at 906 Southwest Blvd. Open daily; for hours call 816-503-6931 or check Facebook.