After traveling more than 3,000 miles, learning a new language and running a restaurant, Patty Rodriguez will not let anything keep her from succeeding.
In a place where the hamburger and the burrito reign, finding a restaurant where you can experience a new flavor becomes a real challenge. But for residents of the Inland Valley, the search ends at the corner of Towne Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, in the small restaurant that stands behind the gasoline station and that could easily be overlooked. But once you have had a taste of the Peruvian cuisine you will never overlook it again.
Inka Trails, the small restaurant with burgundy walls and dark green window sills, is more than just a place to have lunch. The dim lights and slow Peruvian waltzes that play in the background provide the perfect setting for families to share laughter and stories over a meal.
On a regular Sunday night, you can hear people’s shy attempts to pronounce “papa a la huacaina,” “Aji de gallina,” or “lomo saltado,” what Patty Rodriguez, the owner of the restaurant, personally recommends as the most traditional meals on her menu.
This is the place where Patty has the opportunity to share the heart of her culture: the cuisine. This is her domain, her world, her dream. This is where she can share something that has been a part of her world since she was a kid living in Peru. The faint smell of red onions and steamed rice that flow though the air as the waiter serves a dish of “Pescado alo macho” on the table of the curious customers, is the same smell that used to fill every room in Patty’s house as a child.
Learning the restaurant business was almost second nature for Patty, who became familiar with the restaurant atmosphere at a young age in her stepfather’s restaurant. It was there where she learned that running a restaurant was not just about serving food, but about making people feel welcome and teaching them something new.
Although as a child Patty learned the satisfaction of running a successful business, she also learned that there are long hours of hard work involved. It was these same hardships that drove Patty away from the business.
“I never wanted to do anything with it because I knew it was hard,” Patty says.
Today, Inka Trails, the restaurant Patty has owned since 2000, has become one of Claremont’s favorite dining spots. People are attracted by the combination of different influences that come together in Peruvian food, and Patty enjoys the opportunity to teach her customers her culture, even if just for a little bit.
But it wasn’t always like this. The concept of Inka Trails came to life when Frank Rodriguez, Patty’s husband, discussed the idea with Augusto Iwakawa, Patty’s stepfather. With Iwakawa’s help, Patty and Frank began the business that Patty has managed ever since.
But the stress of a new business began to take a toll on their marriage. Taking care of a family and running a business is not an easy task and Patty was not ready for the responsibility, but she was also not willing to give up.
“It was funny how he [Frank] pictured how things were gonna be so easy,” Patty says.
Patty was determined to make the business a success and work through the problems that the restaurant brought into their marriage, something her parents were unable to do.
The marriage between Corina Huanes, Patty’s mother, and Iwakawa was falling apart when Patty was very young. Their divorce was a turning point in Patty’s life. Iwakawa moved to Japan, and Huanes looked for a new life in the United States, leaving her children behind in Peru.
Huanes began a new life and worked hard to bring each one of her children to the United States with her.
Meanwhile, Patty waited patiently with her grandmother in Lima. When Patty was 19 she finally had the opportunity to join her mother.
“I didn’t see my mom for four or five years until it was my turn to come,” Patty says.
A new life with different challenges and outcomes awaited her, and Patty was willing to take them head-on.
A new and unfamiliar language did not discouraged Patty, who enrolled in the Community School Center in Pasadena and earned her General Education Degree while working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, her first real job. Helping her mother was her priority and main concern. It was during this time that Patty met Frank.
Patty began a nursing program in Pasadena and began working as a nurse quickly after she attained her degree. She began taking on 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Although these were the years that taught Patty to be strong and work hard, she never wanted her own children to have to go though the same hardships.
Patty’s children have inspired her to do the best she can do and continue to move forward, no matter how difficult the situation may get.
“I teach my daughter to depend on herself,” Patty says. “They don’t think they deserve anything. They know they have to work hard.”
Patty currently attends Chaffey College and is pursing a degree in business administration.
“A lot of people say I’ve accomplished a lot. I say I haven’t,” Patty says. “I know my husband is successful at what he does. I want to have my own success.”
Frank owns a paint and contracting business, which he started with only $2,000, but which has flourished over the last couple of years.
For Patty, success means feeling like she has accomplished something good in her life, and being able to help people in the process.
“I have a lot of people who are full time who need this job,” Patty says.
Times might be rough and work might take a toll on her life, but she will continue to teach her customers, help her employees, and raise her children to have her spirit and to go far.
“Don’t look back, just move forward,” she says. “Tomorrow is another day.”