As the most visible face of Tom’s Depot, co-owner Maria Isabel Rios-Gonzalez enjoyed a friendly rapport with her customers. In fact, she treated them like family.
“My mom prided herself on her restaurant, and guests became part of her extended family,” said her daughter, Elizabeth.
Mrs. Gonzalez, a mainstay at the Loyola Corners diner for nearly 20 years, died unexpectedly Nov. 6. Just the day before, she had celebrated her 69th birthday.
Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, to Jose Rios and Maria Veteran, Mrs. Gonzalez came to California at 18 years old. With her siblings, she worked at everything from picking fruit to assembly at tech companies.
She met Antonio Gonzalez at a dance in San Jose in 1978, and they married in 1995. They had a church wedding in 2013 and a three-day celebration.
After studying English, Mrs. Gonzalez worked for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and later the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce until she and Antonio took the leap and became small-business owners. They assumed ownership of Tom’s Depot in 2001.
“My father had already worked in the restaurant industry for about 20 years and both he and my sister, Isabel, had worked at Tom’s for a number of years,” Elizabeth said. “Tom Andrews, who owned the property, then offered the lease to my dad, and my mom quit her job to run the restaurant.”
Elizabeth said numerous family members pitched in to help out at Tom’s Depot throughout the years.
While Antonio prepared the restaurant’s acclaimed comfort food, Maria provided a cozy, welcoming environment for diners. But family and friends said she did more than run a popular diner.
“She cared a great deal for the children and families of the community – donating to local causes like an annual soup drive, preparing lunches for local schools, preparing the tiny little restaurant for long lines of students after school filing in for ice cream, milkshakes and burgers,” Elizabeth said.
Local residents will miss her devotion to Loyola Corners.
“I admired her ability as a business woman and her support of the neighborhood,” said patron and friend Teresa Morris. “The first time she contributed to our neighborhood meeting, she laid out so much food, I was stunned. She was generous to a fault and had a sly sense of humor. It was an honor to be around her.”
“What a huge loss this is for the Los Altos business community,” said longtime patron Katherine Wurzburg. “She was one of the warmest and kindest people I’ve ever met. Going to Tom’s Depot was like going to a friend’s home. ... I’ve always considered her the heart and soul of Loyola Corners.”
Wurzburg described an empathetic woman who truly cared for her customers.
“Maria knew how much I loved their chile rellenos, and when I was going through cancer treatment last year, she would bring me a full meal of chile rellenos, beans, rice and tortillas as a gift to cheer me up,” Wurzburg said.
Mrs. Gonzalez was active in her church community, Camino Neocatecumenal (part of the Catholic Church), for more than 20 years. She often prayed for others going through a difficult time, family members said, and donated “food, time and energy” to her faith community.
Elizabeth called her mother “a woman of great faith who lived a life dedicated to others.”
“Whether it was her family, friends or a stranger, she had an encouraging word to share and a smile on her face,” Elizabeth said. “She lived her life demonstrating strength, grace and perseverance.”
Mrs. Gonzalez is survived by her husband, Antonio Gonzalez; children Jose Luis, Isabel, Elizabeth, Maryhelen and Soledad; and 11 grandchildren. Services have been held.
The family requests donations made in her name to Mercy Corps or Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to support Tom’s Depot and the Gonzalez family. To contribute and for more information, visit gofundme.com/f/support-tom039s-depot.