Since 2004, Yelp has worked to connect millions of people to the best in local business. In that time we’ve met thousands of passionate small business owners, a group as hardworking and diverse as any you’ll find. In this series, we share stories of just some of the people who, through their commitment to building great local businesses, are sustaining the vibrant local communities we call home.
Chef Maria Mazon is pretty used to people asking her for interviews at this point, but in no way has this changed anything about the way she runs her business. While sitting at the bar waiting to interview her, she tended to customers and cleared tables. Her smile is warm, she’s humble and her passion runs deep.
Maria was raised between Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico and Tucson. She said Tucson was always her second home growing up, and if you had asked her 21-year-old-self she would have said she wanted to stay in Mexico. Now, Tucson is her number one, and for good reason: her restaurant, BOCA Tacos y Tequila is here, along with her wife and son.
BOCA is not just a taco joint– It’s an experience. Maria has been pushing the taco boundaries for years, introducing people to exotic taco concoctions like ostrich picadillo and pig ear chicharrones. And that’s just the taco! The BOCA experience is sealed with an array of fresh homemade salsas that’ll take your taste buds on a wild ride. Trust in their marquee sign that proudly displays “Our salsas are hotter than your wife.”
Maria says she fell into the restaurant business by accident, but “the most beautiful accident ever.” While working as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant, she took it upon herself to offer the kitchen suggestions on how to make their dishes better. Unbeknownst to her, it was one of those moments that sparked her culinary journey. Shortly after, she started her own catering business with a business partner, which quickly took off and led her to the first location. (Which, sadly, on the day of this interview was actually being demolished to make way for a brand new high-rise). Needless to say, her journey didn’t come without some growing pains.
There aren’t a lot of female chefs out there, especially female chefs who also own restaurants. When her business partner left the business, she had a decision to make: she could either take charge of the entire business or go work for someone else. Her landlord gave her a chance. “I knew squat about business, but I wanted to learn, so he taught me.” Even now, “I’m learning as I go, not just about the restaurant business, but about business business. Taxes, accounting, all of it.”
Maria’s risk taking in the kitchen has earned her some incredible publicity from national publications, such as the Washington Post, National Geographic, Travel + Leisure and Food Network. She even participated on Food Network’s competitive cooking show “Chopped,” and she’s proud of herself, despite being chopped from the show. “Getting chopped on national television makes you grounded and humbled. ‘Oh ok, so I wasn’t that good, huh,’ it’s a recheck. You can get burned out as a chef, but I’m not there yet.”
Maria remains as humble and hungry as ever. She even has a tattoo to prove it. “My most recent success is still having the doors open, owning the business, owning my place, I’m working towards something, my future, my family. I didn’t become a chef to become famous, but if that comes with it cool, awesome, it helps pay the bills. As easy as success comes, it can go that easy too.”
To those looking to start a business of their own, Chef Maria says “YEAH DO IT,” enthusiastically. But what about starting a restaurant? “You have to understand that you have to be there 24/7. It’s hard work, takes the best of you and the worst of you. Owning a restaurant is the most challenging yet rewarding business, I think. You have to have patience and the right formula – you need great food, drinks, location, team, and an accountant. Sometimes you can have the right formula and it just doesn’t take, and its devastating. Everyday is still scary. To open a restaurant you have to be a gambler. It’s worth it at the end to go home and have dinner and a glass of wine and just lay down and think, ‘I did what I loved today’.”
Want to know more? Check out and bookmark Boca Tacos y Tequila on Yelp!