Latina immigrant’s longtime dream realized in area’s first Peruvian restaurant

Hispanic Heritage Month

RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (WSAV) – One local Peruvian immigrant has turned her dream of owning her own restaurant into a reality.

Iris Sarria opened La Casita Peruvian Restaurant back in July, the first-ever Peruvian restaurant in the Coastal Empire.

She has always been sharing the dances, music and recipes of her homeland since she immigrated to the U.S. over thirty years ago, first to Chicago and then to Savannah.

Sarria says she feels her way to help people is by cooking for them. She shared her dream of owning a local restaurant with her daughter, Rosemary.

But in 2013, she almost gave up on that dream after receiving news that no parent wants to hear — her daughter tragically died in a car accident.

“And the dreams that we both shared went in the trash,” she said. “I was really distraught and I distanced myself from everything.” 

After turning to religion for support, the Peruvian immigrant began to work again towards her decades-long goal.

They signed paperwork for the property in December 2019 and began preparing the restaurant for an opening in March.

But just as they were ready to open, the pandemic hit. Once again, Sarria began to question whether she would ever open the restaurant.

“My husband said, ‘Don’t you believe in God?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I have faith in him. I have faith that if he wants me to open, we’ll open the restaurant,'” she said.

Her son, Ricardo De La Torre-Ugarte, works by her side as the head chef. He says he developed a love for sharing his culture after learning traditional dances and recipes as a child.

“Cooking for big portions of the family or friends, it just always gave me a fire in my heart to show my culture and to express what I can learn and what my mother has taught me,” he said.

At the restaurant, he’s been developing new dishes to share and says he’s happy to be a part of the dream his mother and late sister always wanted.

Part of the motivation for the restaurant comes from the fact that Sarria says she always was cooking and preparing celebrations for other people in her home.

Sarria says she named the restaurant La Casita — or little house, in Spanish — not just because the building truly is a little house. She wanted to share her new home with her customers.

“Because this is a little house,” said Sarria, “I want people to feel like they’re still coming to Iris’ home.”

Editor’s note: Direct quotes from Sarria were translated from Spanish into English by the author.

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