- Edgard Ayala opened his restaurant a year before the pandemic and built a reputation with customers that led him to sustain and eventually expand his business.
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When chef Edgard Ayala opened his restaurant, Rocoto Peruvian and Mexican Grill, people told him the concept was so out of place that it’d never work.
Less than three years and an ongoing pandemic later, he’s already expanded into the property next to him to offer even more customers a cuisine that honors his story as an immigrant.
“This is Red Lion. You had just pizza places, burger places. The area needed something different,” he says today. “This is why, I guess, it’s working.”
‘This must be a signal’
Edgard moved from Peru to Argentina at 23 to attend culinary school in Buenos Aires. He had family in York County and came to the United States the day after his father died in 2006.
While here, he found work at an Italian restaurant. He revised some of the dishes, even adding a few plates to the menu. The owner offered him a full-time job and later helped expedite the visa process to move his wife, Maria, and their two children to the U.S. in 2010.
About four years later, he got an opportunity to work at Hershey Lodge. He loved the work, benefits, and experience, but he didn’t like the commute up and down I-83, the traffic around Harrisburg, and the crashes he saw all too often.
On one cold and rainy day, a car passed him on his left and hit the median, narrowly missing Edgard’s rear bumper as he watched a pile-up unfold in his rearview mirror.
“God, this must be a signal,” he remembers praying. “I could either move to Hershey or open my own restaurant closer to home.”
Peruvian and Mexican fusion
Edgard saved some money and kept his eyes open for an opportunity, eventually finding a space in 2019 in a strip mall along Cape Horn Road.
His open-concept kitchen offered fusion Peruvian and Mexican food. The restaurant name, Rocoto, pays homage to a chili pepper grown in Peru. Customers especially love his Peruvian-style braised short rib dish, Seco, Edgard says.
When the pandemic hit, everything he focused on that first year made the transition to “carry-out only” almost seamless. “The community really supported us,” he says.
He’s quick to credit his staff for their part in building up Rocoto. And, of course, his wife.
“She always stayed by my side and helped me make my business what it is today.”
Edgard flies an American flag outside his business as a thank-you to the country and people he’s come to love. It’s given him and his family the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
And he’s always dreaming of the next thing.
The business recently bought an espresso machine and soon will offer customers lattes and coffee from Latin American countries. Opening a second location is in the back of his mind.
Until then, he remembers a lesson his father taught him years ago: Machu Picchu wasn’t built in a day.
Making more money isn’t what drives him, anyway, he says. “I like seeing the faces of the customers when they eat well and are happy.”
Rocoto Peruvian and Mexican Grill at 2997 Cape Horn Rd, Red Lion, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m Tuesday through Saturday and closed Sunday and Monday.