Our Heritage: Cooking to nourish body and soul

Maria Robles was born in the small Mexican town of Cuautla in the state of Jalisco, about 100 miles southeast of Puerto Vallarta.  She was one of twelve children.  Everyone had to pitch in to make the household run smoothly, and Maria’s job was to help in the kitchen. Preparing meals for a family of 14 was a big enough task, but they also fed the employees who worked on her grandfather’s farm.  Maria began to enjoy her responsibilities in the kitchen and soon started creating her own recipes for the family and crew to try. 

Macedonio Robles was also born in Jalisco, in the town of Union de Tula.  In 1975, Maria and Macedonio fell in love and married. They started their life together in Mexico City were Macedonio worked in a government job and Maria was a stay-at-home mom.  To stay busy and give herself an outlet, she took cooking classes — and loved them.  The friends and family she cooked for always raved about the results.

BUILDING A FUTURE 

But things weren’t going well at Macedonio’s job. The young couple began searching for a solution, and as the history goes for many families, the possibility of opportunity in the United States looked promising. Maria had a brother in Seattle who managed a restaurant. In 1986, when he was given the opportunity to buy his own restaurant in Renton, Washington, he called on Maria to come and help get it established.

Leaving three children behind with their grandmother, Maria and Macedonio took a chance. Their plan: to work in Renton for a couple of years, learn the business, then return to Mexico and open their own restaurant.  When they arrived in the Seattle area without knowing English, they were not certain the chance they took would work out. The language barrier meant starting at square one in the restaurant, with Macedonio as a dishwasher, and Maria, who thought she would be in the kitchen, busing tables. Since all their savings were invested in this chance to build their future, they were determined to soldier on. But after two years had passed, Maria missed her children. The savings they had been setting aside were then spent to reunite their young family. The dream of opening their own restaurant was once again put on hold. 

A "BULLISH" DETERMINATION

Dedicated and determined, the couple worked and their family grew. At his brother-in-law’s restaurant, Macedonio moved up to prep cook and then to cook. Maria learned a little English and became a server. They had another child, and like this, they lived in Renton for nine years. 

They moved on to the beautiful lakeside town of Chelan in central Washington when another of Maria’s brothers decided to open a restaurant, called “La Laguna.” It was there that they mastered the entire process of running a restaurant and the opportunity they had long been waiting for began to unfold.  Macedonio learned to be a bartender and server. Maria worked mornings with the chef, learning to make the restaurant’s food.  Soon, she started creating her own recipes. Offered as daily specials, those recipes were a hit, and her brother invited her to open up a second location for him.  In 1998, the Robles opened “La Laguna II,” once again investing their life’s savings.  Maria was finally realizing the dream she had when they first left Mexico. She was the Chef at her own restaurant, with Macedonio working alongside her as a cook. 

By this time, the kids were older, and they too had fallen in love with the restaurant life in which they were raised. The two older daughters, Julissa and Lorena, had worked at their uncle’s restaurant, where Julissa was in charge of the staff and Lorena worked busing tables after school. 

But life had another challenge in store for the family. “La Laguna II” had been open only three months when a fire ravaged the restaurant after a fryer malfunctioned.  The building owner, in spite of receiving a sizeable insurance payment, decided not to rebuild.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES 

Once again, the couple was at square one, working with extended family, tending bar and serving tables. One day, Macedonio and daughter Lorena were in a little town near Lake Chelan called Manson where they stumbled upon a tiny vacant restaurant, fully equipped, available for lease.  They called the landlord, and before long they once again had their own restaurant.  It was called “La Herradura” — The Horse Shoe  — for good luck.  Located on the northern shore of Lake Chelan in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the town was very seasonal; winter business was snowy and slow.

But they held on for a few years. In 1996, yet another brother of Maria’s, Carlos Anaya, continued the family tradition and opened a restaurant in Bend, Oregon, called “El Caporal.” Three years later, he invited his sister to open a second location, so Maria and Macedonio moved from Manson to the Bend area, where they soon discovered a nearby town named Sisters, which they liked very much. In March 2000, Maria and brother Carlos opened a restaurant in Sisters together, which they called “El Rancho Grande.”  After just 8 months Carlos wanted to sell his share to Maria to open a second location in Bend.  With a love of cooking and a tradition of making meals for others running deep in the family, Macedonio and Maria made another investment in their dream. They bought out her brother’s half, with a quarter for themselves and a chance for their daughter and son-in-law (that’s me, Lorena, and my husband, Rafael) to buy the other 25 percent.

A FAMILY COOKING TOGETHER FOR YOU

So Maria, Macedonio, Lorena and Rafael all became partners.  Maria creates recipes for the menu.  Lorena and Rafael manage the operation. And the families, working and cooking together, continue pursuing their culinary dreams.

El Rancho Grande did so well in Sisters that a second location was opened in Bend and a third in Redmond.  Today, only the Bend location carries on — a tradition of great food that represents hope, a bullish determination, and a belief in the value of creating and sharing delicious meals.

Thank you for giving us the chance to share our love of family and authentic Mexican cooking with you.