Richmond’s La Perla restaurant undergoes makeover

on September 16, 2014

The much-loved La Perla restaurant in Richmond continues to serve tacos and enchiladas, but will soon re-open with a new menu and a new name: the ‘Vege & Soul International Cuisine,’  under the direction of new management.

The restaurant, owned by the Ponce family for 60 years, was sold this year and shut down from May to June. The new manager and head chef of the restaurant Theresa Coleman revealed her plans to keep serving La Perla’s Mexican food, but to also expand the menu to include other international dishes.

Through this combination Coleman aims to safeguard the historic legacy of the famous restaurant while also diversifying its menu. Importantly, Taco Tuesdays – a neighborhood institution that drew crowds with its’ $1.25 price tag and tasty tacos – will be kept.

However, Coleman ran into difficulty retaining the complete La Perla food experience due to what she described as the Ponce family head chef’s protectiveness over recipes. “I saw the previous La Perla family and I approached them because I wanted to preserve their recipes, their legacy,” said Coleman. “But the response I got was not very pleasant.”

Chef Antoine accompanies Coleman in the kitchen.

Chef Antoine accompanies Coleman in the kitchen.

“The head chef was Mamá, and she was not sharing any recipes with anyone” Coleman said. “When Mamá said no, we accepted it humbly, and there’s really nothing we can do.”

Despite being denied these recipes, La Perla re-opened in June, headed by Coleman, who promised to honor the restaurant’s historic significance as much as possible. “I will create my own wall to remember La Perla” said Coleman, “because we have school teachers in their eighties who have been eating here for sixty-seven years.”

‘Soul Food Fridays’ is Coleman’s newest innovation, serving customers a range of southern-influenced dishes.

“[These dishes] have flown like wildfire,” said Coleman. “To this day I have not got a negative [reaction] yet. I just rely upon the community and their feedback, and as long as you’re pleasing them, that’s what really matters.”

The old favorites remain on the menu despite the lack of recipes.

Chef Coleman: the Mexican food you love, including Taco Tuesdays, is to here to stay, but watch for new dishes, too

When asked whether there would be any price changes to the menu, Coleman said “there will be a price increase only on the new foods coming”, while “old food from La Perla will stay the same.”

Coleman says she hopes to have the Vege & Soul International Cuisine’s grand opening  by Thanksgiving, right there in the same Nevin Avenue location that three generations of Richmonders have come to know so well. Whether ‘Vege & Soul’ will be just as popular as the old La Perla remains to be seen.

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