Small Business Spotlight: La Paloma Restaurant

By Melissa McKenzie
Small Business Spotlight: La Paloma Restaurant

Open for 40 years this year, La Paloma Restaurant remains a favorite among Santa Clarans. Using family recipes, owners Rudy and Cindy Parker began serving authentic Mexican favorites in 1977.

After growing up in the restaurant business and helping run several restaurants with his parents in Southern California, Rudy wanted to venture out on his own. He had family living in San Jose and found the location at the corner of El Camino Real and Los Padres Boulevard. Although already a restaurant—Lorenzos—the Parkers remodeled the space and opened under the name La Paloma after one of Rudy’s father’s favorite Spanish songs.

“We were the first Mexican restaurant in Santa Clara,” said Cindy, “one of the first … When we opened up our doors and it took us seven months to remodel, we had an hour and a half wait at lunchtime.”

“We hit just the right spot and the right time,” added Rudy.

Chef Jose Trujillo, who relocated with the couple from Southern California, to this day remains part of the kitchen staff and a huge reason behind La Paloma’s success. Arriving at 5:30 a.m. every day, Trujillo begins his day by scratch-cooking the beans and rice, simmering the meats and starting on what will become the gallons of salsa the restaurant goes through on any given day.

“Our food is quality and quantity,” said Rudy. “You get your value and our customer base is an advantage—being here for so long, even though the neighborhood has changed drastically. We’ve seen the changes and we kind of rode that too. It hasn’t been easy. There have been tough times.”

One of those tougher times came when the Parkers sold the restaurant in 1990 and moved out of the area. The new owner retained the La Paloma name but changed recipes and personnel—including Trujillo who left with the Parkers—causing La Paloma to go downhill quickly. Because the Parkers were still on the lease as secondary holders, they came back in January of 1994 to reclaim their restaurant “the day before the landlords were going to padlock the door,” said Rudy.

Once back in control of the restaurant, the Parkers needed to regain lost customers, and because of Santa Clara’s “tight, local community,” a banner proclaiming La Paloma was “Under Old Management Rudy and Cindy” helped get people back through the doors. Trujillo also returned to the kitchen. The Parkers openly admit selling was a mistake and the first year was rough, but eventually Santa Clarans returned.

“People still say to me to this day, ‘I’m so glad you came back,’ and it was 23 years ago,” said Cindy.

Another difficult time came when the Parkers lost their son and manager, Matthew, in 2000. A plaque currently hangs in La Paloma’s entryway honoring his memory.

More recently, redevelopment almost closed La Paloma permanently and soaring rental costs are making it increasingly difficult for the small business to remain open. Larger companies have also added onsite cafeterias and cut back on spending accounts, crushing some of La Paloma’s lunchtime business. The high cost of living in Santa Clara and Silicon Valley has also made it difficult for the Parkers to hire and retain staff.

Still, the Parkers continue to weather the storm, relying on their popular lunchtime taco bar buffet to draw customers in during slower hours and their strong customer base. They’ve also started using DoorDash and utilized social media to reach more people.

“[Customers are] just like family,” said Cindy. “They really are. They come in and into our bar, they know your name. Our bartenders usually know your name and I think that makes them feel very at home. They love our servers.”

La Paloma is at 2280 El Camino Real. A menu and additional information can be found at www.eatatlapaloma.com.