Ten years ago, when Diana Carrillo, owner of Chicken Coop Restaurant Lounge on Rockaway Avenue, first considered opening a Colombian restaurant, she said she didn’t imagine her dream would become a reality.
Becoming an entrepreneur, however, consumed her, and she focused her energy into making the eatery happen. On Oct. 25, the Chicken Coop celebrated its 10th anniversary. In addition to Colombian and other Hispanic food and drink, it also features live Hispanic music.
“These past 10 years have been a lot of sacrifice and hard work, and I’m truly having an emotional roller coaster about this anniversary because it means so much to me,” Carrillo said, welling up with emotion. “I believe that I have really brought something special to the Valley Stream community by truly honoring and fulfilling the Latin cultural aspect and Hispanic and multicultural vibe that my restaurant brings.”
After emigrating from Colombia 20 years ago, Carrillo said she dreamed of bringing her Hispanic heritage to life in the United States by opening a Colombian restaurant. Through the Chicken Coop, she said she hoped to share Colombian culture with Valley Streamers, while never forgetting the life she had in her native country. She currently lives in the Five Towns.
“I spend practically all my time devoted to keeping this restaurant running, and this is not just for my personal gain, but my goal is to always serve the Valley Stream community,” said Carrillo, adding that she has fallen in love with the diverse neighborhood. “The best part of owning my own restaurant business is meeting new people of all different backgrounds, and the hardest part has definitely been running my restaurant during this pandemic.”
Her eatery, like many in the restaurant industry, has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Carrillo closed her restaurant for the first few months. When she reopened in the late spring, business was slow at first, but gradually picked up.
“It was a really difficult and intense time when business was slower because we were filled with worry and we weren’t sure what was going to be next for us,” she recounted. “Slowly, we regained our reputation for both indoor and outdoor dining, and we couldn’t be happier that we now get to celebrate 10 years.”
Carrillo said she credits her daughter, Valery Carrillo, with motivating her over the past few years and helping her to stay positive during the pandemic.
“I believe the idea of her withstanding and having a business of her own during Covid times shows she’s a strong businesswoman and a great mother,” Valery said. “I’m so proud of my mom, who has dedicated so much time and hard work towards this, which has paid off, and this restaurant is a continuous success that I hope will continue for many years.”
Regulars at the Chicken Coop echoed her sentiment, and recounted their memories of the restaurant.
Valley Streamer Kurt Latchman, 26, said he vividly remembers when the Chicken Coop opened in 2010.
It was “such a vibrant-looking place, and it instantly became a neighborhood staple,” he said, recalling the many times during his teenage years when he ate parrillada (barbecue) coop with Latin chicken and sausage, along with Colombian guava-flavored juice. “I remember applying for a job years ago at the Chicken Coop, and I didn’t get the job because I failed miserably at speaking Spanish, but I never stopped eating there, and it’s part of my youth,” he said.
Five Towns resident Sandra Orellana, who is in her late 30s, said she has eaten there since it opened and continues to visit.
“The service is always amazing, and the people have always been so warm, polite and inviting,” she said. “This is one of the best restaurants that I’ve ever been to, and as long as they stay open, I don’t think I’ll ever stop coming.”
Beyond nostalgia, others said the restaurant made them feel at home. “Other people told me that this Hispanic restaurant is incredible, and now that I’m actually here right now for the first time, I can tell why they have lasted for so long in the Valley Stream community,” said Fernando Cerna, who made the trip from his home Suffolk County to the eatery on a recent Thursday evening. “I love that the servers speak Spanish, and even though I’m not from Valley Stream, I feel so welcomed and I feel like I’m surrounded by true family.”