For the last 10 years, sisters Vanessa and Melissa Anaya have been keeping alive the legacy of their entrepreneurial mother, Maria Elena Montellano.

They would head to 1450 Gold St. in Alviso — the home of Maria Elena’s, the restaurant — and, with the help of devoted relatives and staffers, serve treasured family recipes for chile colorado and chile verde and other popular dishes to lunchtime crowds.

And when the COVID-19 shutdown started back in March, they offered takeout meals — until the end of May, when they had to shut down.

“There was honestly no business out there,” Vanessa said of Alviso, where Silicon Valley stretches nearly to the bay to meet this historic North San Jose community. “Most of your customers are from the tech companies. After the shutdown, it became a ghost town.”

Now the sisters have launched a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of raising enough money to pay salaries owed to the staff and overdue utility bills and — if there’s enough left over — to restock the kitchen and reopen.

“Our main concern is getting the employees paid,” said Vanessa, who noted that most of the staffers have been with them 10 or 15 years and have been understanding about the Anaya sisters’ predicament, as has the landlord.

In her online appeal, she wrote: “We have been doing everything in our power to generate funds and tried to get assistance, but as you’ve seen on the news, like many independent restaurants, we did not receive any help from the PPP loan. Having to close our doors permanently is a daily fear.”

Shutting down the Gold Street restaurant would end the family’s history in the restaurant business. Maria Elena’s father and mother, Guadalupe and Angela Montellano, opened restaurants in San Jose and Dos Palos starting in the early 1980s, using recipes that they brought to this country from their native Jalisco in Mexico.

Maria Elena took over the Alviso restaurant and became known for providing an after-school gathering place and meals for students from a nearby campus. She died unexpectedly during surgery in 2010 at the age of 47, stunning the residents of Alviso.

“It has been a challenging 10 years but the family always got through the obstacles thrown their way,” Vanessa says in the online appeal.

Longtime customers have been early donors to the campaign.

“This is the best Mexican restaurant in the area. My wife and I and family have been eating there for 25 years. Here’s hoping they can open again soon!” Steve Gaul posted.

And Senon Chavez wrote about meeting Maria Elena years ago. “She always had a great heart, and it showed at her restaurant. So happy to see her daughters are doing their best to continue.”

Details: Donations are being accepted on the GoFundMe page,


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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