Trigg County native Fredia Smiley grew up in a cooking-and-restaurant family.
Her grandparents owned the Pete Light Springs restaurant, where she learned the skills she is using now as the owner of Sonrisa Latina in Hopkinsville.
"I've been in the restaurant industry since I was 8 years old," Smiley said. "I've always wanted to own a restaurant, but I didn't think it would be a Mexican restaurant. I was always thinking along the lines of Southern cooking."
Located at 1135 W. Seventh St., the building was renovated in December and opened for business shortly thereafter.
"It's been a labor of love ever since," Smiley said.
The menu features traditional food created by the diverse Sonrisa kitchen staff.
"They have brought some of their family recipes in. They have some of the spices they use to cook with. They've tweaked some of the old favorites with a Southern flair," she said.
Among the menu favorites is the Jalisco Special, which includes grilled steak, chicken and shrimp cooked with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. The dish is served over a bed of rice and covered in cheese sauce.
Patrons also enjoy the Pineapple Fajita, which is chicken, steak and pineapple sautéed with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes topped with Chihuahua cheese sauce.
"Pineapple is used in the recipe and the pineapple (half) is the serving dish," Smiley said.
Customers rave about their margaritas and their salsa, she noted.
"It has a little bit different taste to it. There's a little sweet. There's a little spice," she said of the tomato-based dip. "Everything's made on site here. Our chips. Our cheese dip, too."
Smiley said she believes Sonrisa offers a family-friendly atmosphere.
"We're all a family here. Kids are welcome here," she said. "We want people to come in, relax and enjoy. Take your time and catch up. It's that kind of atmosphere we're looking for."
For children, the Sonrisa kids menu features traditional Mexican fare of tacos, quesadillas, rice and beans, as well as American favorites, chicken tenders, burgers and macaroni and cheese.
The children's meals are named for Smiley's grandchildren, Callie, Brantley, Taylor and Gracelyn, as well as Sonrisa chef Javier's daughter, Emma, and employee Beto's son, Iker.
The restaurant name is Spanish but has an American connection.
"Sonrisa means smile, like my last name Smiley," she said. "Latina is for Latin food."
Smiley said although they primarily serve Mexican food now, the menu will include more international options in June. Friends with Cuban, Honduran and Caribbean roots have shared their culture and recipes with her.
"We've learned from them -- their culture to our culture," she said. "We are going to bring in those specialty recipes."
Among those specialties planned for the future is the Tres Leche cake.
"Three types of milk in the cake. One is condensed milk. It's very, very moist," she said. "We'll bring different (recipes) throughout the year."
Smiley will announce the specialty nights online at www.sonrisalatinahopkinsville.com, through their social media page and local media outlets.
"One week we'll have Cuban night. The next week we'll have Caribbean night," she said. "It will never be the same night (of the week)."
Those who dine in will see family heirlooms of farming equipment hanging on the rust-colored walls at Sonrisa Latina.
"It represents our area here, but it also represents the Mexican and Cuban and Honduran themes because they work with those same tools," she said.
For frequent guests, Sonrisa Latina offers a loyalty program. Customers check in at the entrance kiosk with their phone numbers. On their fifth visit, they receive a food item free.
Sonrisa hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit their website or call 270-887-6000.
"Good food and customer service. If you have those two things, you're golden," Smiley said.
Reach Michele Vowell at 270-887-3242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.