Riverdale restaurant impacted by COVID receives financial boost from PepsiCo

Richard and Claudia Berroa, owners of Claudy’s Kitchen in Riverdale who received a financial boost from Pepsico.
Photo Jason Cohen

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on small businesses citywide. However, a recent study showed Hispanic-owned businesses in the Bronx were hurting well before the pandemic began.

In September 2020, the Center for an Urban Future released a report that revealed that the Bronx experienced a 23% decline in Hispanic-owned businesses from 2012-2017.

To address these challenges, PepsiCo launched Juntos Crecemos on Aug. 31, a $50 million platform aimed at strengthening Hispanic-owned businesses, specifically restaurants, bodegas and carnicerías (meat markets), addressing foundational business challenges and supporting business growth over the next five years.

“The contributions of Hispanic communities are an integral part of the fabric of American culture,” said C.D. Glin, vice president, The PepsiCo Foundation and Global Head of Philanthropy, PepsiCo. “Unfortunately, the community has also long faced systemic barriers to success – a divide only deepened by the impact of COVID-19.”

Small business owners participating in Juntos Crecemos will have access to the Hispanic Digital & Delivery Program, a customized eight-week consultation curriculum tailored to meet their specific needs, including helping them improve their online presence, delivery logistics, online ordering and marketing practices. Participants will also be provided with consultation from experts via office hours, where they will receive coaching and guidance on devising solutions for business challenges.

Among the businesses who received help from PepsiCo was Claudy’s Kitchen, 5981 Broadway, a Peruvian restaurant in Riverdale that specializes in empanadas and flan. Owned by Richard and Claudia Berroa, the couple dreamt of bringing Peruvian food to Riverdale, a neighborhood they’ve called home since 2007. They signed a lease in mid-2019, and after several setbacks, including the onset of COVID-19, they were finally able to open in June of 2020 — nine months after they had planned to.

Staff at Claudy’s preparing food. Photos courtesy Claudy’s Kitchen

The Berroa’s path to restaurant ownership did not happen overnight, however.

Richard, 47, born and raised in Morrisania, worked various jobs, including positions with HBO Latino and the infamous Death Row Records. In 2001, he was backpacking in Peru with a friend when the Peruvian president halted travel out of the country for a week.

During that time, he met Claudia Berroa, 49, and it was love at first sight. Six days later he proposed to her. Knowing minimal English, Claudia Berroa took a leap of faith and moved to America with her soon-to-be husband.

As Richard Berroa worked during the day, Claudia Berroa stayed at their Manhattan home and learned English by watching “Iron Chef” on TV. Growing up in Peru, where food is a big part of the culture, Claudia Berroa was always in the kitchen watching her father Guillermo and grandma Anna cook. Soon, she began calling home and asking them for recipes.

“I was raised by my grandma, and I remember being next to her when she was cooking and the smells were amazing,” Claudia Berroa said.

After Berroas had kids, the couple relocated from Manhattan to Riverdale in 2007. It was around then when Claudia Berroa began making flan. The tasty dessert soon began to be a popular item throughout the city. They catered parties, sold it to various eateries, including the renowned Zabar’s in Manhattan and sold it at street fairs. Claudia Berroa was quietly making a name for herself.

According to Richard Berroa, people were raving about the flan, but they soon saw the need to pivot to making different food.

“We noticed at the street fairs that people were going to the savory stuff before they went to the sweet stuff,” he said.

So Claudia Berroa reached out to her family in Peru for empanadas recipes and soon the idea to open a restaurant was borne. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 and businesses shuttering soon after, the Berroas’ made the courageous choice to open Claudy’s Kitchen. But their fears quickly evaporated as they sold out of food their first weekend. The delicious empanadas, rice, flan and other tasty Peruvian food had Riverdale buzzing. Situated across from Van Cortlandt Park, near Manhattan College and in front of a 1 train subway station, they felt it was a prime location.

“We had no choice, it was sink or swim,” Richard Berroa said.

With the closest Peruvian competitor located in the South Bronx, the couple knew they had a niche, and if marketed right could be huge in the community. With reviews from the New York Times and a Michelin award, the restaurant slowly began to garner attention.

Chef and owner Claudia Berroa in front of Claudy’s Kitchen.

More than a year after opening, Richard Berroa said one of the challenges had been making empanadas. However, with the recent $9,000 gift from PepsiCo, they purchased a dough sheeter, which allows Claudia Berroa and the staff to make about 40-50 at a time.

“PepsiCo really helped us,” he said. “Before we had to roll each empanada by hand.”

Richard Berroa told the Bronx Times he credits their success to his wife’s cooking, their fair prices and the fact that they are a local family from the area. “Bottom line is the reason why we’ve been able to survive and thrive is the food is really good,” he said.

Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.