Rutilio Castrellon, better known as “Rudy,” was born in Mexico and his memories from growing up on a large ranch in the Mexican state of Zacatecas helped to inspire his fervent pursuit of a true in Monrovia.
Castrellon, the owner of in Old Town and the president of the Monrovia Cinco de Mayo Association, has led the charge for an official city celebration and on May 1--a few days early--he'll get his way.
Castrellon’s memories of traditional Mexican dances performed at holiday celebrations helped motivate him to work on bringing the party to Monrovia. When Castrellon was growing up in Zacatecas, the students at the school he attended on his ranch competed against schools from other ranches, both academically and through dance competitions. With his dance partner, Castrellon excelled at the competitions.
“We always came home with the trophies,” he said.
Castrellon's experiences in his native country weren't always rosy, and one of the things that impacted him the most growing up in his town of about 250 was the depression that Mexico suffered in the late 1950s.
“Our state of Zacatecas took it the hardest,” he said.
In the late 1960s, when he was only 15, Castrellon left Mexico and came to live with three uncles in the San Gabriel Valley. As the first born out of seven siblings, he admitted that it seemed natural for the oldest to try to help the family.
“That’s our Mexican culture,” he said. “I wanted to provide for my family. We could see we needed to live a better life.”
After he arrived, Castrellon began working at North Woods Inn, a steak house in Rosemead, with his uncles. He worked as a dishwasher for three months until he was promoted to the position of assistant cook, and then he became the broiler man who cooked the steaks.
As he was working in the restaurant industry, Castrellon decided he wanted to find a profession where he could help people. He began attending Rio Hondo’s nursing program in El Monte at age 17. By 1975 he had completed his studies and began working as a nurse. He met his future wife, Rosa, through working at the Episcopal Home in Alhambra. Then in 1976, he also went back to working part-time as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant in Arcadia.
As he continued working as a nurse and waiting tables, Castrellon was always watching and learning more about the restaurant business. In the 1980s, he confessed to his wife that he had a desire to run a family business. Although she liked the idea, she was also concerned about their lack of experience, and the time it would take. By 1988, however, they were ready to give it a try.
“We knew it would be hard work. In order to succeed we had to sacrifice, and we did,” he said.
Long hours that might have been spent together as a family or with each other, the couple had to devote to the restaurant. They also had to refinance their home, even though the money they took out didn’t even match one-third of the investment they had to make.
“The only way to pay back was to succeed,” he said. “But we were successful from the beginning. Even from the first month.”
Castrellon’s restaurant is named “Rudy’s” because the nickname was easier for Americans to pronounce. The rose on the restaurant’s logo signifies his wife, Rosa. Castrellon brings other elements of his life and his heritage into the restaurant’s decor. The walls are decorated with Mexican art, photographs of his pueblo, Atolinga, celebrities from Zacatecas, and murals. In the banquet room and cantina, there is a mural that depicts his mother in the house where he grew up, including the entryway to the room where he was born.
Although the restaurant’s menu contains some regional dishes from Zacatecas, the food Castrellon serves in his restaurant is not necessarily based on memories of what he ate growing up.
“People ask if we had family recipes, but we had hardly anything to eat,” he said.
He has refined his menu over the years by creating dishes and asking employees and customers to sample them.
“Once they approve it, then that’s when they go on the menu,” he said.
Over the years, Castrellon has expanded Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant four times—twice to the back, and twice to the side.
“Every time we made an expansion we had the money to do it,” he said.
“Our business has grown by word of mouth. We have had thousands of people come in and experience our atmosphere and the family environment. Our employees are good to each of the customers. Whether they’re family or not, they do a great job. I’m grateful for that,” Castrellon said.
The Castrellons have six children, and currently three of them are working in the family restaurant. Their uncle, Castrellon’s younger brother, also works in the restaurant.
“I treat my kids who work here like the other employees, and I treat all the employees as if they were my kids, all the same. The rules are the same for everyone. That’s one way to succeed actually,” Castrellon said. “You see them coming in week after week, month after month, year after year. When I can make people happy that’s the biggest satisfaction I can have."
Castrellon has also been active in numerous community projects and is on the Monrovia Old Town Advisory Board. Last month he was recognized by the City of Monrovia, the City of Duarte, and the California State Assembly when he received the “Social Responsibility” award from the Santa Anita Family YMCA. His most recent project is Monrovia’s Cinco de Mayo Festival, which is scheduled for Sunday, May 1st from 2 to 8 pm in Old Town Monrovia.
Castrellon continues to visit his hometown when he can, and he has helped his home state since 1989 through a social club he started with others from Zacatecas. As one of 58 clubs formed by Zacatecanos in the Los Angeles area, they have raised money to provide assistance to schools, cemeteries, and other community projects, and they have worked with the governor of Zacatecas on matching funds for the projects. He said that his experience with fundraising helped him organize the Cinco de Mayo festivities in Monrovia.
Overall, Castrellon said he is grateful for his life work, his family, and his good health. He also appreciates that he’s been able to help others, which brings him much joy.
“For me it’s been a great experience in life to be able to do things, not just for the family, but also for the community, and for our people here in the city,” he said. “If I can live another one hundred years this way I’ll be very happy!”