Imagine yourself cruisin’ through Paradise on a warm summer’s evening, windows down (okay maybe not this week when it’s 103°), Seals & Crofts crooning in the background. As you turn down Elliott, the savory scent of garlic wafts into your car. You roll the windows down some more. Soon, the smell is joined by the rich tang of onion, tomatoes, and grilled tortillas.
So who can blame you for pulling in at number 1132? Maria’s Kitchen is officially open for business and serving up irresistible homemade Mexican meals.
Owned and operated by Maria Garcia and her husband and children, Maria’s Kitchen was the first restaurant to reopen in Paradise after the fire. The business first opened in July of 2018 and was forced to close for seven months while the family regrouped. They spent a few months in Oregon with Maria’s sister but knew Paradise was calling them back.
“Who is going to feed all the workers?” wondered Maria. “There are going to be a lot of people there working, and there are no businesses to feed them.”
Knowing their restaurant could offer a much-needed service, the Garcias made the decision to reopen. They headed back to Paradise in early March and squished into the residential rooms at the back of the property for a few months. A lot of elbow grease, a professional deep-cleaner, and an installation of a water tank saw Maria’s Kitchen opening for the second time in June of 2019.
“I really wanted to be a part of the rebuilding,” said Maria. “I want to see the people coming back and help people feel a little bit of joy because the town is coming together little by little.”
Today, Maria’s Kitchen serves a stream of hungry eaters with homemade burritos, enchiladas, tamales, and other mouthwatering dishes.
For Maria, the restaurant is equal parts love for the Town and a testament to perseverance. The Garcias first moved to Paradise from Los Angeles in 2003, three young children in tow. To bring in extra income for the family, Maria began selling homemade tamales to the children’s teachers. Over the next decade, her business grew alongside the kids, with Maria in the car most of the day delivering tamales all over town. She even rented space in the Masonic Lodge for cooking and catering. “The Masons are very nice people,” said Maria. “They helped me out a lot!” When the kids reached high school, Maria looked into a more stable solution and bought the building across from Safeway.
After the fire, the family experienced the challenges of many: lack of water and lack of housing. But the community stepped in to help: the landlord of a neighboring apartment complex that survived found a spot for them, and the manager of SaveMart connected Maria with the plumber to install the water tank.
“For me, it’s a privilege to be a part of a group of businesses reopening after the fire,” said Maria. “We’re here because of the community. This restaurant is theirs because every penny they put here is just for them. I’m just very grateful for Paradise and the people.”
Now open for over two years since the fire, Maria remains excited about the adventure and optimistic about other businesses and families returning to the Ridge.
“I encourage them to come back,” she said. “Every year it’s going to grow back more. Keep going and have faith and trust and everything will be okay. It’s not like it was before, but we have everything we need.”
Considering a rebuild or new business in Paradise? Visit Maria’s Kitchen! She has two breezy, garlic-scented patios and an inspiring array of comfort food. You’ll likely have the opportunity to talk to locals. Her best-seller? Good old-fashioned encouragement.
“It’s good to be a little example of courage,” Maria smiled. “People need courage.”