Creating this thriving West Michigan restaurant while battling cancer ‘was part of his recovery’

Creating this thriving West Michigan restaurant while battling cancer ‘was part of his recovery’

Maya Mexican Grill & Bar by Matt Vande Bunte

From the sombreros hanging on the wall to the “equipales” around the tables to the “muñecas” on display, so much of the décor inside Maya Mexican Grill & Bar is authentic, imported from the land of our neighbors to the south.

Then there’s the live mariachi music on Saturday nights and the delicious sugar- and salt-rimmed margaritas at the bar. And, of course, the extensive menu of genuine Mexican dishes such as Huachinango, Tampiquena and heaping Parrilladas is very tasty, or, shall we say, muy sabroso.

If you’ve never been to Mexico, step inside Andy Rosario’s restaurant in Rogers Plaza Town Center for the next best thing. Maya Mexican Grill is anything but watered down.


“In every sip of your drink you feel the tequila,” said Michael Martinez, bartender in the flourishing restaurant along 28th Street SW in Wyoming. “We always try to do our best to make it with a little bit extra. We always try to take care of our tables the greatest.”

Authentic Equipales at Maya Mexican Grill

In addition to booth seating, Maya Mexican Grill & Bar inside the Rogers Plaza Town Center features authentic ‘equipales,’ or chairs.

Just five years old, Maya Mexican Grill recently made the Top 10 of Michigan’s Best Mexican Restaurant Search. That’s especially interesting since Rosario, the owner, is a native of the Dominican Republic – and a cancer survivor.

When Rosario came to the United States as a boy, he lived with an uncle who owned a grocery store and as he got older Andy ran the store after school. That background led him to start one of the area’s first food trucks about a decade ago, when the trend was just making its way into West Michigan.

It was while running “El Loco Hungry” that Rosario honed his business mentality and whet his appetite for serving the public and interacting with customers. Soon, he was poised to open a full-service restaurant with a liquor license.

Pina Maya dinner at Maya Mexican Grill

Andy Rosario says he ‘found the passion of serving’ while operating one of the early food trucks in Grand Rapids. Now, he’s serving up delicious dishes such as the Pina Maya dinner at Maya Mexican Grill & Bar.

Rosario opted for a menu and ambiance rooted in his wife’s Mexican heritage, yet several unique dishes such as the Pina Maya – a hollowed-out half pineapple filled with steak, chicken, chorizo or shrimp – are infused with Dominican influences.

Maya Mexican Grill opened in 2014. Then, just a few months later, at age 36, Rosario was diagnosed with cancer. Nasal carcinoma, Stage 4. There was a tumor touching his carotid artery.

Against long odds, eight weeks of treatment in Ann Arbor proved successful and shrunk the mass. Rosario survived. Maya Mexican Grill began to thrive.

“Instead of sitting at home focused on his health, he was focused on Maya,” said Elizabeth Rosario, Andy’s wife and a local attorney. “I think that kind of helped him. That was part of his recovery.

“He’s always had this positivity to him. He’s my hero. I’m just super proud of him.”

Now 40, the soft-spoken Rosario looks back on his cancer as if it were a fever: “Take some Tylenol and move on,” he says. He poured himself into his restaurant, ensuring his kitchen has the freshest, choicest ingredients for dishes that Michigan’s Best raved about including fried red snapper (Huachinango), steak (Tampiquena) and an overflowing “molcajete,” or stone bowl, of grilled meats and vegetables featuring jalapeño peppers the size of bananas (Parrilladas) – not to mention a variety of classic fajitas and tacos.

décor at Maya Mexican Grill

The décor at Maya Mexican Grill & Bar features authentic art, figurines and other items from south of the border.

Rosario has adorned the walls with sombreros from Guadalajara and imported traditional Mexican chairs called “equipales.” On one trip to the Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá, he found a heavy statue that was a pain to get through customs but makes a perfect mascot for the restaurant.

And, ironically, Maya Mexican Grill features artwork depicting an ancient calendar with a Mayan god bearing the burden of time on his back, kneeling under the weight of it. For Rosario, now cancer free, time is a gift, one he’s happy to share with guests.

“We’re still standing after all the struggle,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”

And it’s worth celebrating.

“I want people to come and enjoy with family and friends and have a good time. That’s really what it’s all about.”