Maria Byers-Ramos remembers gathering around an old, white enamel stove and oven as her mother gave her 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 diced vegetables and carved meat. Maria admired the artistic flair with which her mother combined seemingly distant ingredients to create fantastical flavors. "My mom was a good cook who was dedicated to family," recalls Maria.
Throughout her life, Maria has equated delicious, healthy, homemade food with love, comfort, and caring. Her impressive culinary abilities, coupled with her personal drive to always do the right thing, have made this dynamic woman the most successful restauranteur in downtown Grass Valley.
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.
Maria works at least 60 hours a week. She tries to take Saturdays and Sundays off to spend time with her 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’m at." 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, and consistent leadership. Naturally, she also makes the major financial decisions. "Are we going to purchase large appliances, such as walk-ins or fryers?" explained Maria. "When will we remodel or expand again?" "We're constantly upgrading and improving." It’s a fast-paced business in which every tiny detail is important. Maria takes the lead in planning holiday buffets, 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 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 cleaning products or whipping up a few batches of salsa. "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 cooks." For Maria, making people happy, giving back to her community, and serving great meals all begin and end 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 batches of salsa. I never want to get my "hands off the pot."