Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering They Call It ‘Soul Food’ for a Reason 3/5/18 03/05/18 10:50:35 AM
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Patricia “Big Mama” Barron has earned the Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Month award for her passion – the restaurant she started when she was 65.
Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering
They Call It ‘Soul Food’ for a Reason
By Emily Kerr
The Daily Record
Right down to the leopard print tablecloths, Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering is all sass and soul. Owned by Patricia “Big Mama” Barron and managed by her daughter Gladys Harrison, this homey restaurant specializes in soul food and traditional American cuisine.
And now the restaurant is being honored as the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s March Small Business of the Month.
From appetizers and entrees to desserts, this diners’ paradise is famous for its oven-fried chicken and sweet potato pie ice cream. Big Mama’s passion is poured into every single home-cooked dish. She loves what she does so much she says, “I’m going to work until I’m 100 years old!” Believe it.
Everything from the big band music playing to the family photos displayed on the walls echoes Big Mama’s spunky personality and desire to make customers feel “like they are in their grandma’s kitchen.” Acquiring her love of cooking from her mother and grandmother, it was her dream from the age of six to open her own restaurant. After nearly 50 years, finally in 2007 at the age of 65, she succeeded in bringing her vision to life.
Big Mama’s has enjoyed immense success since it opened its doors, garnering national media attention. Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” in 2008, it then went on to be selected for the Travel Channel’s “101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down.” In 2013, the restaurant even had its own reality television show pilot featured on Food Network as well as the Cooking Channel.
Getting there was not easy, though. As a woman in her mid-60s, she approached three banks for loans to start her business all of which turned her down, citing her lack of “leadership experience.” That despite having managed hundreds of people throughout her corporate career.
They would soon be eating their words, and when the restaurant was featured on the Travel Channel, she sent them the DVD. “See, I did it without you,” she said.
She is proud to be an example of hard work and dedication coming to fruition. She demonstrates a remarkable work ethic, but insists, “Just because you’re 65 does not mean you can’t do what you want to do. You don’t need to stay tucked away waiting for time to pass.”
Serving customers in her restaurant for over a decade, Big Mama has a philosophy of doing what she loves every day.
“I’ve always loved to cook,” she says, “I’ve always had a passion for it. I love to feed people, invite them over and eat good food.”
Having traveled to Mexico, Canada, and Africa, she draws inspiration from rich cultures and complex flavors. Gladys, the general manager, explains one of their signature dishes, the Afro Burger. “It is inspired by some food that Big Mama ate in Africa. It’s made of ground beef, and it is super spicy. We roll it long like a sausage, simmer it in our spicy barbecue sauce, and serve it on a hoagie bun.”
It has such a kick, eating an entire Afro burger is a rite of passage for every new Big Mama’s staff member!
The culture at Big Mama’s is unlike many establishments, running as a team but also a family. With Gladys at the helm managing the restaurant, Big Mama can focus on what she truly loves: cooking delicious soul food.
Their supportive, family dynamic welcomes those in need into the fold as well, including two blind prep cooks as well as several felons.
Big Mama explained, “My kitchen help are felons, because these kids go to prison, get out and want to change, but no one will hire them. I have two blind people working for me, doing prep work; they are my best workers.”
The restaurant has even sponsored three students through culinary school, since felons are unable to qualify for any government loans or grants, and thus have problems learning a trade or getting an education once they have been released. The dynamic at Big Mama’s is so unique, the Food Network even created a reality show pilot!
Gladys brings out the fun side of Big Mama and her restaurant by entertaining guests with violinists, piano and guitar players, and other live music. Dine, Digest, and Discuss is an intellectual discussion group that meets in the restaurant every third Saturday of the month. It is a time for people to come together, watch videos and documentaries, and discuss topics such as business and local politics. They even offer complimentary soup and cornbread!
This spring, Big Mama’s will be relocating to 2112 North 30th Street in the Highlander Neighborhood. “I’d like to see North Omaha revived,” Big Mama says. Their new location will be among a blossoming center for schools, recreational facilities, apartments, and other amenities to attract investment to the area.
Gladys remarked, “The atmosphere will be different. It is going to be a modern restaurant, it will be newer.” For continued updates on their exact moving date, visit their website at www.bigmamaskitchen.com.
Providing a comfortable space for diners to loosen their belts and dig into some good old-fashioned soul food, Big Mama has a desire to leave a mark on her community. She wants people to remember, “that I gave back. That I helped to contribute to make this one of the best cities in the nation to raise a family.”
Not only does Big Mama cook from the heart, she completely embodies the comforting atmosphere of being in grandma’s kitchen.