La Casita's journey leads to success in Richmond Hill, GA
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There is no one path to operating a successful business; however, there are lessons to learn from others who have made the journey. For the owners of La Casita Peruvian restaurant, the journey had to take unexpected turns before finding the right path.
Iris Sarria, born in Peru, has always been a bit of a Renaissance women, especially when it comes to her culture. She has trained and performed with dancing horses and is widely sought out to perform songs and dance at events. While she has been a guide to many on her Peruvian culture, her passion is for cooking. This passion evolved into a dream to open an authentic Peruvian Restaurant.
After over thirty years of living in the United States, she was able to realize that dream two years ago when Iris, with son Ricky Delatorre, opened the doors to La Casita Peruvian Restaurant. Today, the small restaurant finds itself with full tables most nights and is carefully planning its path to grow into a second location.
While it has been a long-term dream, the restaurant is not Iris’s first business. She owned and operated grocery stores and home-based kitchens. From this experience, she was able to study her customers' preferences—Additionally, the need for education on traditional Peruvian dishes.
Iris would see customers brush aside the Peruvian Seaweed that tops ceviche because they were unfamiliar with it. Unknowingly, they were disregarding a nutrient-rich, imported delicacy! She saw this as an opportunity to engage customers and educate them on the specialties of the Peruvian culture, "I started to educate about my food; this is Peru, this is part of my country."
That education extended to her children, whom Iris trained in traditional cooking methods.
"My sister would help her (Iris) cook; from there, she built a liking for cooking and selling with my mother. They had a plan to open a restaurant."
The popularity of Iris and her family's authentic Peruvian dishes continued to grow. Customers would often pick up their orders from the family's home, bringing folding tables. They would ask if they could eat in her home or backyard. Iris and her family would joyfully oblige. These spontaneous dinner parties included traditional Peruvian songs and dance.
Around this time, the family knew they could be successful in opening a restaurant, but the journey took an unexpected turn. Tragically, Iris's daughter lost her life in a car accident. As the family healed, ideas for a restaurant were put on the back burner.
Nearly ten years went by before the plans for opening a restaurant came back into motion. When Iris's husband left his career at Gulfstream, he asked Iris if she wanted to travel the world or start a restaurant. She knew it was time to realize her dream.
"I didn't know a lot about starting a restaurant," Iris shared. She sought the help of Alfonso Ribot with the Metro Savannah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Alfonso assisted Iris and her family find a location and helped guide them through the requirements and licenses required to open a business.
Iris and her son see the chamber as essential in helping them start and grow their restaurant, "More people need to be part of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, especially small businesses, because they offer a lot of help."
Alfonso is committed to supporting the Hispanic businesses to grow in Georgia. The chamber's mission is to provide leadership and support the economic development of the Hispanic business community of the Savannah Metropolitan.
He knows that when more businesses in his community are successful, his vision for the chamber can be realized as well, "Sometimes, you have a dream and a vision. Sometimes, somebody else makes that dream come true."
The chamber has also been a powerful resource in promoting La Casita in the community. Before opening La Casita, Iris and Ricky were not as familiar with Richmond Hill. Many of the early customers were referrals from the chamber and word-of-mouth.
Ricky shared his gratitude for their location, "I don't think we could have been blessed with a better spot and community; they are all very supportive."
Richmond Hill, Georgia, is a suburb outside of Savannah with a population of only 12,720. Before La Casita opened its doors, the closest Peruvian restaurant was in Jacksonville.
"We are really happy to have brought something completely different. People can try us out, and they don't have to drive an hour and a half to try Peruvian food now," said Ricky.
Ricky pointed out that now guests as far as Miami or travelers from New York frequent La Casita.
Iris and Ricky are committed to perfecting the dishes and experience at their Richmond Hill location before expanding to open another location. They also have hopes to see more Hispanic-owned businesses grow in the community.
"Just go for it" is Ricky's advice to others with a business dream.
He also shared that diving into the business idea is the only way to learn about the requirements and business you want to start. He advises others that the only way to continue the dream of owning a business is to, “know the actual things you need to do to get started.”
Finally, he shared the importance of a positive attitude, "If you do things with your heart and in a good mood, everything will come out good." This was a lesson, he said, learned from Iris.
At La Casita, they put that heart and attitude into everything they do. While the family's journey to opening the business took many turns, they sought help and guidance to keep the dream alive. For them, the restaurant is more than a business. La Casita is about a way to share the memory of their late daughter and sister.
Businesses like La Casita are essential to their communities and Georgia. Across the state, organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce provide resources that help start and grow minority-owned businesses. Connect to the networking opportunities in your region here.
If you are in the Coastal Georgia region consider visiting La Casita Peruvian Restaurant, click here to visit their website.