9 months ago

Destination Nevada County

Premium visitors magazine for Nevada County produced by the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce

Chef Maria Brings Her

Chef Maria Brings Her Culinary Talent to the Table By Lorraine Jewett Maria Byers-Ramos remembers gathering around an old, white enamel stove and oven as her mother gave Maria and her sister their first cooking lessons. At age 10, Maria learned how to make fresh salsa, bake delicacies, stuff a turkey, and sauté vegetables the traditional Mexican way. She marveled at her mother’s quick, agile hands as she deftly diced vegetables and carved meat. Maria admired the artistic flair with which her mother combined seemingly disparate ingredients to create fantastical flavors. “My mom was a good cook who was dedicated to family,” recalled Maria. Throughout her life, Maria has equated delicious, healthy, home-made food with love, comfort, and caring. Her impressive culinary abilities, coupled with her drive to always do the right thing, have made this dynamic woman the most successful restauranteur in downtown Grass Valley. Maria owns and operates the extremely-popular Kane’s Family Restaurant with managerial help from her son, Henry. With manager/daughter Gina by her side, Maria works similar wonders at Maria’s Mexican Restaurant a few blocks down the street. “Sometimes it’s difficult to be both ‘mom’ and ‘boss,’ but it’s nice to know I can count on my son and daughter to help run both restaurants. They’re passionate just like I am,” said Maria. 26 DESTINATION Nevada County Maria was born and raised in Sacramento. During her youth, she spent long hours picking tomatoes under the hot sun and culling green or rotten tomatoes from the harvester. The work was manual, but the lessons she learned were intellectual. As she envisioned a future career with cooking at its core, it was obvious to Maria that great food starts with great ingredients. In 1981, Maria moved to Nevada County and began working at a variety of Nevada County restaurants, a country club, and a grocery kitchen. By 1992, she found the financial wherewithal to open Maria’s Mexican Restaurant. Around the same time, she invested in the opening of Kane’s Family Restaurant and took over dayto-day management in 2013. As the driving force behind both restaurants, Maria works at least 60 hours week. She tries to take Saturdays and Sundays off to spend time with husband Ray Byers (of Byers Enterprises. Inc.) and their two dogs. But if one of her approximately 100 workers can’t make it to work, Maria fills that shift. “I’ll work the line and cook,” she said. “I also help wash dishes occasionally. Wherever the need is, that’s where I am.” Maria attributes much of her success to the loyalty of her employees, many of whom have worked with her for decades.

“I’m so grateful to have such good people in my life,” she said thankfully. Maria maintains an open-door policy with her staff and provides firm, fair, consistent leadership. Naturally, she also makes the major financial decisions and provides answers to tough questions. “When should we upgrade our large appliances, such as walk-ins or fryers?” explained Maria. “When should we remodel or expand again? We’re constantly improving and modernizing both restaurants.” It’s a fast-paced business in which every detail, no matter how minute, is important. “We taste the food every day and take the temperature on the line,” said Maria. “We have weekly meetings at which we consider new sales items and plan events such as parties, holiday buffets, and catering.” Maria takes the lead planning holiday specials, including extravagant presentations on Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. “I can’t remember when I had a Christmas or Mother’s Day off,” she laughed. Maria has been known to begin her work day at two or three in the morning, perhaps researching more effective and eco-friendly products, whipping up a few batches of salsa, or creating different recipes. “My ultimate desire is to serve good quality food, offer great service, and leave people satisfied,” said Maria. “Everything is made from scratch, the way my mom cooked.” If—and it’s a big IF—Maria were able to cut back her hours at the restaurants, she’d like to return to her first love: making what many consider to be the best salsa on the planet. “If I could pull back a little, I’d have the energy to make salsa and maybe sell it in grocery stores. But it would have to be unique because salsa is overdone,” she said. “Or maybe we could stage ‘Salsa Throwdowns’ at our restaurants. It’s fun to offer things that give people a challenge and make them want to compete.” For Maria, making people happy, giving back to her community, and serving great meals begins and ends in the kitchen. “I’ll never stop cooking. At my age, you’d think I wouldn’t want to keep cooking. But just the other day I went out to the garden, picked tomatillos, and made four different batches of salsa,” she said. “Being creative is my passion.” Located in Historic Downtown 120 E. Main St. • Grass Valley, CA 95945 (530) 273-8111 DESTINATION Nevada County 27