Restaurateurs’ Humble Beginnings — Four Dishes Cooked in Insta Pots — Launch Ardmore Success

Levi Hernández and daughter María-José Hernández.
Image via Yong Kim at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Levi Hernández and daughter María-José Hernández.

When Maria-José Hernández and her father Levi opened Venezuelan restaurant Autana in Ardmore in 2020, its operations were humble. But its reputation quickly spread, reported Craig LaBan at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Culinary skill runs is multigenerational the Hernández clan.

In Venezuela, Levi ran a successful catering business. When he came to the U.S., he was the juice bar whiz at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons.

Maria spent time as a server in a bistro beneath Ardmore’s SEPTA stop.

Her passion for the taste of her homeland got her entrepreneurial juices flowing.

Maria-José fondly recalled her paternal grandmother’s signature dishes, including mandocas, a sweet-and-savory fritter made from plaintain, corn, and queso.

“They were her form of love for us,” she said, citing her inspiration.

When her worksite was vacated and his kitchen job was sidelined, the father-daughter pair got into the restaurant business for themselves.

The commercial entity, which took over the transit-adjacent site, opened with the use of a borrowed freezer that supplied four menu items cooked in two Insta pots.

But it was enough of a start to warrant continuing, upgrading, and expanding.

Loyal customers now vie competitively for a pair of the 34 seats across its Thu.–Sun. operating hours.

LeBan’s recommendations from the menu include baked costillitas (pork ribs cooked in orange juice, wine, and spices) and Pabellón Criollo, (shredded beef in zesty tomato gravy).

More on the culinary success of the Hernández family is at The Philadelphia Inquirer.


The media attention gained by Autana included this Christmas 2022 report from NBC10.

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