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Kennewick Inca Mexican Restaurant to move to Marineland Village

One of the longest-standing restaurants in the Tri-Cities is moving, although not very far.

Inca Mexican Restaurant in Kennewick, at 3600 W. Clearwater Ave., will relocate up the road to Marineland Village.

Owners Javier Rodriguez and Antonio Mendoza expect the new Inca to be ready at 201 N. Edison sometime in November.

The current building is getting older and showing more problems.

“But mainly, the parking lot has been an issue for years,” Rodriguez said.

Space is tight and the lot is shared with at least four other businesses in the adjacent strip mall.

Rodriguez said he thought about closing the Kennewick Inca, but there are too many loyal customers.

And since the restaurant opened in 1989, he and Mendoza wanted to keep it going.

“We’ve been in business 30 years,” Rodriguez said. “We’re planning a 30th anniversary celebration. The new Kennewick location will be able to seat 75 people. The Clearwater location can actually seat 120 right now. The biggest mistake in the Tri-Cities is opening too big of a restaurant at a location.”

Mendoza said they’ll try some new things at the new location.

“We’ll have a tortilla show, with six or seven sauces,” Mendoza said.

If that sounds familiar, it might be that you’ve seen it done at Fuego on 27th Aveune in Kennewick; or at Hacienda del Sol on Road 68 in Pasco.

That’s because Rodriguez and Mendoza also own those restaurants.

Rodriguez, his brother Jose Rodriguez and Mendoza are partners in seven Mexican restaurants. They also have business partners in some, but not all, of those restaurants.

The roster includes Inca Kennewick, Inca Richland (which they opened in 2004), Inca in Moses Lake (which Jose Rodriguez runs), Inca in Fort Collins, Colorado, Fuego in Kennewick, Hacienda del Sol in Pasco, and Hacienda del Sol in Benton City.

Mendoza estimates they employ 150 people.

“Each restaurant averages 20 employees, except the Pasco restaurant,” Mendoza said. “It’s bigger, so it’s closer to 30 employees.”

The key to their success is their recipe book.

“We’ve developed our own recipes over the years,” Mendoza said. “Each place we have, you do your own twist on some of the menu items.”

Because the food at every restaurant doesn’t need to taste the same, Rodriguez added.

“The salsa tastes different at each place,” he said. “The carne asada is different, for example, too.”

The highest form of flattery sometimes is imitation.

“Some of our employees who have left us over the years, moved on and started their own restaurants around the country. They serve the same recipes we put together,” Mendoza said.

Over the years, both Rodriguez and Mendoza realized they might be excited about opening a new place.

“Over the years, we keep proving to ourselves that we’re still in good shape,” said Rodriguez, who is 53. “We ask ourselves, ‘Do you still have the drive to keep going?’ We do. We put our touch on it with how we decorate it, paint it. We smell the new paint, the new carpet. When we open the place, see that the place is busy, I still get excited.”

And after almost 30 years together, they know what they are doing.

“The keys are good food, good service and good prices. And we brand our business,” said Mendoza, who is 50.

Rodriguez came to the United States from a little village in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

“I was looking for a better life,” he said. “The first job I had was to pick up cigarette butts out of the bark outside a restaurant in Seattle. I did it for two months before I found a job as a dishwasher working at Las Margaritas in Kirkland.”

Over the next five years, he worked in various Mexican restaurants – including his aunt’s – in the Seattle area, laboring long hours while taking the bus on a daily basis.

He worked in the kitchen, he bused tables, he worked the bar, he worked as a waiter. He learned every aspect of the business, all the time keeping his dream of owning his own place alive.

“For five years I saved money to open a restaurant when I was 23,” Rodriguez said. “All the time, I kept this dream to be an owner.”

So he asked his brother Jose to leave the Seattle area to start their own restaurant in Kennewick in the late 1980s.

That’s when they found the spot for Inca, where a previous Mexican restaurant had been but eventually shuttered.

“People didn’t think we’d be there in six months,” Rodriguez said. “They were expecting us to fail. So we wanted to prove to people by showing them what we could do it. We had a vision.”

One year into the business, Mendoza was hired to cook in the kitchen.

Rodriguez took notice of him quickly. Maybe it was because he saw a lot of himself in Mendoza.

Rodriguez saw how Mendoza took care of Inca as if it was his own.

“So I asked him to come aboard as a partner,” he said. “That was 29 years ago. And every move we make (with a new restaurant), Antonio owns a percentage.”

Not only is Mendoza an owner, he loves being part of the team.

“It’s a great feeling to come in, even on a day off, and the staff is short handed, to come in and help,” Mendoza said. “A partnership is like a marriage. I admire Javier as a person. How he carries himself in life. Both of us don’t have problems getting in there and washing dishes.”

Or slapping an apron on and cooking if someone needs help.

“The secret is working hard,” Rodriguez said. “We put in 13-, 14-hour days.”

Rarely do they take time off. Rodriguez might take Tuesdays off. Mendoza? Maybe a half-day on Mondays. And they both have wives and children.

But they do what they do because they love it.

“When I see a lot of people enjoying our food, I love it,” Rodriguez said. “The business can be sensational. But it’s not about the money. We’re still doing something. It’s a passion to do this.”

Mendoza agreed: “It’s about trying to create a connection. It’s great to see people that started coming to our restaurants 20 years, they’re much older. They’re bringing their grandkids now. It’s a good feeling seeing that. It’s amazing.”

They’re excited to show off their new Inca Kennewick location in a few months. And they’re excited about what they’ve accomplished – especially in their line of work, said Mendoza.

“Nothing is easy in the restaurant business.”

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