Pastry-making runs in Victor Rodrigez’s blood.
He’s a third-generation pastelero (pastry maker) carrying on the tradition his grandparents started in Peru. Rodriguez owns Tineo Cafe in Richardson, where he’s been serving pastries and food from his homeland for the past eight years.
If you didn’t know you were in a Peruvian joint, the décor surely will inform you. Behind the counter hangs a big national flag with Peru written in the middle. A glass case of empanadas, baked with beef or chicken inside, sits on top of the counter.
Rodriguez is proud of where he comes from. He named the shop Tineo, like his family’s pastelerías back home, in honor of his grandmother’s maiden name.
“Growing up, I told my father I didn’t want to have a pastelería,” Rodriguez says. “I noticed how sacrificing it is. But I ended up going into the kitchen, and you learn and experiment with things.”
Rodriguez’s dad made him and his siblings spend at least two years working in a pastelería just outside of Lima, but he made sure each got a higher education. At one point, his family owned more than a dozen pastelerías, but after a while, some siblings left the business to pursue other interests. Not Rodriguez.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” he says of pastry making. “To do it right, you have to love it. Because if you don’t love it, then you’re just making something to sell. Anybody can do that.”
Curious to see the world, Rodriguez decided to visit the U.S. for a conference in 2001. He liked it so much, he decided it would be the place to settle. Before bringing his family over, Rodriguez scouted locations where he could start a pastelería. He traveled all over but eventually got in touch with friends from his barrio living in Dallas.
After a 26-hour bus ride from Atlanta, Rodriguez called his wife to tell her he planned on staying in Dallas for a while because of the opportunity, but after talking it over with family, Rodriguez had to go back to Peru.
“My dad didn’t want his youngest to live so far from home,” he says. “So I went back home to talk about the family business.”
In his town of Comas, he got into politics and ran for mayor, finishing third.
After the loss, Rodriguez decided he was going to follow through with moving to the U.S. This time, his wife and kids would come with him. Back in North Texas, he tried getting a job in the bakery department at Walmart but couldn't without a Social Security number. (He's a legal resident with a work permit now.)
To pay the bills, he and his wife decided to make food out of their apartment and sell it any way they could. They found soccer parks in Richardson where Rodriguez knew they could entice fellow Peruvians to buy as many as 100 empanadas a day. He’d take requests and be sure to remember clients, and soon, his business spread.
By 2010, a friend back home offered to lend Rodriguez some money to open his own shop on West Arapaho Road. But it's not just a pastelería — it's also a restaurant that's become increasingly popular for Rodriguez's pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), lomo saltado (beef or chicken flamed over fries) or arroz chaufa (flamed fried rice). For the sweet tooth, Tineo has leche asada (like roasted flan), alflajores (cookie sandwiches with caramel in between, coated with powdered sugar) and custom cakes.
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Now, Rodriguez runs the business with his wife and one of their daughters, who helps out while going to school. He’s hopeful someone in his family will keep the pastry-making legacy going and is eyeing his grandson to grow into it.
Rodriguez says his kids don’t really see themselves in the family business, and that’s OK with him.
“It’s been tough for us,” he says. “But I can’t imagine working anywhere else. My family has always had their own businesses. I can’t be stuck in an office. I have to be out talking to people.”
Tineo Cafe, 525 W. Arapaho Road, Richardson