Maria Carrion works Tuesday afternoon in the kitchen, back left, at Yvettes Cocina on Main Street in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — Growing up, Maria Carrion used to closely watch her mother, Yvette, as she cooked.

“When I was younger, instead of running the streets, I was always in the kitchen with my mom, even when I got older,” said Carrion, 29. “I actually tried to figure out her secret ingredients — she wouldn’t tell me, so I used to have to watch her. It took me a while. Over the years, I’ve found it.”

She opened Yvettes Cocina (Yvettes Kitchen) last month in the former Pop Shoppe Diner on Main Street, full of Spanish flare, in honor of her late mom, fulfilling a longtime dream for them both.

The menu, from Yvette’s recipes, changes depending on the day. An early, most-popular contender: Steak and potatoes served with yellow rice and gandules (pigeon peas).

The steak is cooked in a broth with vegetables, “like a beef stew, but steak,” Carrion said. “You put it in your mouth and it’s just juicy. It melts in your mouth.”

Other offerings include pollo guisado (chicken stew), empanadas and a bacon cheeseburger “cooked with my seasonings, so it tastes different,” she said.

Carrion was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New Jersey and moved to Maine around age 12.

She has worked in customer service and sales, “but I always wanted to be in the kitchen,” Carrion said. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.”

Maria Carrion, right, takes a moment between orders Tuesday afternoon at her new restaurant, Yvettes Cocina,, on Main Street in Lewiston.

She pursued loans and other business startup programs with little luck, she said, and enrolled in college courses for business management, “meeting people and trying to get pointed in the right direction — it just didn’t work out.”

She then heard about the Pop’s space last spring. There is bar stool seating for about a dozen people and a side room with more tables.

“As soon as I walked in the door, I knew this was the space,” Carrion said.

Over four months, she hung wallpaper, cleaned out the kitchen, laid flooring tile.

“Things that I didn’t know how to do before,” she said. “I fixed my own dishwasher — I just started YouTubing everything that needed to be done and I did it myself. I wired that light over there that I put together. This is my job. This is what I want, so this is what I have to do.”

Carrion has spent her savings, over friends’ cautions, and she is currently using the restaurant’s profits to upgrade the kitchen equipment.

Yvettes Cocina is open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 8 p.m., Saturday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Carrion has three young sons and set the schedule for a work-life balance. She takes orders and does all the cooking, with one helper for cleaning. So far, most orders are opting for takeout.

She plans on having live music from local bands on weekends, and hanging up a photo of her mom soon.

“This makes me happy. When I come in and I see ‘Yvettes Cocina,’ I think of my mom. It makes me more happy,” Carrion said. “I’m going to do what I have to. I’ve sacrificed a lot, a lot of friends, a life, but it’s all worth it. I’m pretty excited. It’s just the beginning.”

Yvettes Cocina at the corner of Main and Elm streets in Lewiston.

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