Bringing a Taste of Puerto Rico to the Hill City
With new owners and a slight change in name, The Latin Place, located downtown on Jefferson Street, is the place in Lynchburg to find authentic food and hospitality straight from Stephanie Domena and Luis Rodriguez’s home island of Puerto Rico.
“Our main goal is to keep sharing our culture,” Domena said. “We were born and raised in Puerto Rico, so we are bringing the dishes we were raised with.”
Domena and Rodriguez moved to the United States from Puerto Rico 13 and eight years ago, respectively. Before coming to Lynchburg, they lived near Tampa Bay, Florida, where they met and were married, with their children Genesis, 4, and Luis Jr., 2.
The couple planned to open a Puerto Rican food truck in Florida, before Domena’s mother connected them with Harry and Josephine Rivera, the previous owners of That Latin Place in the same location.
“We came to Lynchburg to visit, and we loved it,” Domena said. “It resembles a lot of our capital, San Juan, Puerto Rico.”
Since the restaurant’s official re-opening in mid-January, customers have flocked in to try the authentic Latin food and meet the couple.
Rodriguez loves making some of his traditional favorites, which he learned to cook from his grandmothers when he was growing up. The restaurant serves everything from tostones and empanadas, to Tripleta and “El Jibarito,” a plantain sandwich with choice of meat, lettuce, onions and drizzled with the Puerto Rican favorite mayo-ketchup.
Navigating the COVID-19 guidelines has been the primary obstacle for The Latin Place, which began serving only carry-out and recently opened a small amount of indoor seating.
“We just want to make the guests feel like family,” Rodriguez added. “In Puerto Rico, we are huggers.”
For Domena and Rodriguez, one of the joys of running the restaurant is meeting the many Hispanic customers that come in to get a taste of home.
“They come and they start [talking to us]in English, and then they say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m Hispanic or I’m Puerto Rican,’” Domena said. “Not all of them being Puerto Ricans, but a lot of them Hispanic and wanting to try something Latin. It’s been really great.”
The Latin Place is not only for Hispanics, however. Domena and Rodriguez hope their restaurant will be a hub for anyone looking for great food and wanting to learn more about Puerto Rican culture.
“I would like to make an environment where people can feel like they are back in Puerto Rico,” Rodriguez said. “And give the opportunity to those who haven’t traveled there, to know a little bit about it.”
“Even if they haven’t been,” Domena chimed in. “When they come visit us, they can say that they know a little bit of Puerto Rico because they came to see us.”
Words & Photos by Christian Weaner
The Latin Place
901 Jefferson St., Lynchburg
Find on Facebook: @thelatinplace