CARLSBAD — Nearly three decades ago, cousins Marie Davies and Carmen Gastelum took a huge risk.
With a passion for — but no experience in — the food industry, the duo opened what they could only hope would be a successful Mexican restaurant on Harding Street in Carlsbad.
This year, the proud owners are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pollos Maria, a restaurant that has become a North County favorite for home-style Mexican fare.
“The one thing that we’re really proud of is that we’re so healthy,” Davies said. “It’s hard to find fast food, or semi-fast food, that’s good for you.”
The restaurant is well-known for its Mexican broiled chicken dinners and comforting family recipes, all offered at an affordable price. People flock to Pollos Maria for award-winning salsa and mouthwatering tamales made true to Davies’ mom’s recipe.
“Some of the family recipes are so ridiculous, like the sauce for the enchiladas,” she said. “It takes I don’t know how many hours to make but we don’t want to change it.”
Although Pollos Maria has become a destination in Carlsbad, it wasn’t always an easy journey for the novice restaurateurs.
Davies owned dry cleaners for more than two decades before exploring the restaurant market. She approached Gastelum with the grilled chicken restaurant concept after reading about its potential in a Wall Street Journal article.
Gastelum agreed to check out a nearby franchise, or “she thought she’d never hear the end of it,” recalled Davies.
Not wanting to limit themselves to a strictly chicken restaurant, the two strayed away from the franchise and branched out on their own. Though Davies had a “heck of a time” creating the marinade, their creativity allowed them to offer a menu of family favorites.
“I would throw parties at my house and people always told me, ‘That’s so good Marie, you should have a restaurant,’” Davies said. “People love my food.”
With a menu in place, the cousins sought out the perfect location for their first restaurant. To limit losses, the two opted to use a piece of property Gastelum already owned — her first house in Carlsbad, which she had been renting out.
“She booted the people out of the old house,” Davies said. “We gutted it and made it into the restaurant.”
Years later, the restaurant is flourishing at the original Harding Street location. Due to its success, the cousins have since expanded to a second location in Oceanside and into a thriving catering service.
Davies hopes to open a third location if presented with the right opportunity in the future.
“I didn’t think we were going to make it, but we did!” Davies said. “I figured as long as I kept it like I cooked at home, it would be alright.”
Sample Pollos Maria’s famed broiled chicken and other family recipes at the Carlsbad or Oceanside locations. For more information, visit www.pollosmaria.com.