Maria Rojas will never forget how she found herself in Big Bear as an 18-year-old immigrant who spoke very little English. She moved to Big Bear after obtaining her immigration papers at an Indio immigration office to work at the Christmas tree farm at Hamilton Ranch.

By the age of 19, Maria started a job at Old Country Inn as a hostess and cashier. Two years later she met and married Gabriel, who was a chef at the Iron Squirrel Restaurant.

Sixteen years later, the owner of the Old Country Inn, Bruce Bucions, offered to sell Maria and Gabriel another restaurant he owned — Sonora Cantina. The Rojas couple purchased Sonora in 2004. The couple added the Old Country Inn to their portfolio when they purchased it from Bucions in 2009.

On June 4, the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce recognized Gabriel and Maria and Sonora Cantina with an Ebbie award — for excellence in business.

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A wonderful American family Bear Valley is lucky to have as friends and neighbors.

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