Tag Archives: Big Mama’s Kitchen

Gladys Harrison: Captain of Big Mama’s Kitchen

September 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It takes a family to fill Big Mama’s shoes. Daughter No. 4, Gladys Harrison (general manager of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering), knows this all too well. She even keeps a pair of her mother’s footwear close to remind her.

“I had planned to take a pair of my mother’s size 12 shoes to her funeral,” Harrison says. “I wanted to give a big speech about how big her shoes were figuratively, literally, and that it would be impossible for one person to fill them. Unfortunately, none of that happened.” 

That opportunity may have passed, but Harrison continues to live by the sentiment. Providing delicious, quality soul-food to hungry customers had always been her mother’s dream, and Harrison has been involved since the beginning.

“As children, my sisters and I helped my mother sell dinners out of the family home on weekends, until my father told us to get that mess out of his house,” Harrison recalls. 

After opening in 2007, Big Mama’s Kitchen received a huge boost when they were featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives less than a year later. While Harrison’s initial duties included creating fliers, setting up the website, and snagging their unique phone number (402-455-MAMA), her responsibilities grew at a fast pace until she found herself at a crossroads.

“For two years I worked 24/7, heading directly to the restaurant in the morning after working night shifts at Qwest Communications,” Harrison says. “My children were growing up without me, and I could feel the restaurant moving toward that next level. I wanted to be there 100 percent, so I said a prayer and asked God to give me a sign so I could quit my job and give my full time to Big Mama.”

She would eventually get that sign and leave Qwest Communications after a voluntary separation. Assuming the role of general manager gave Harrison a chance to showcase her abilities and spend lots of time with her mother. Their fun relationship was captured on a television pilot they shot for the Food Network back in 2013.

“They liked us because my mother and I were always arguing,” Harrison says with a smile. “She would say that I became general manager because I can’t cook, but don’t believe everything she says. I have always dreamed of being in charge! I was even elected as the state president of the Future Business Leaders of America at Marian High School.”

Harrison credits her giving nature, strong customer service background, and duties as an instructor and facilitator for quality improvement at Qwest Communications for her success.

 “I can’t tell this story without shouting out Tim Clark and Marilyn Simms,” Harrison adds. “They gave me an opportunity years ago to manage the volunteer committee for their annual jazz and blues concert at The Durham Museum. Doing that for three to four years gave me the experience I needed to manage.”

Anticipation was palpable in the air at Big Mama’s over the summer, with the team ready to move into their new location in the Accelerator Building at 30th and Parker streets. While the neighborhood may change, the inner-working of Big Mama’s Kitchen will remain a family affair, with Harrison delegating duties amongst her relatives.

Sister No. 3, Delena, makes the jams and jellies that are sold at the restaurant and local farmers markets, while sister No. 1, Donna, comes in on the weekends to talk to customers like their mother used to. Debbie is daughter No. 2 and their silent cheerleader, but Harrison’s most important asset is her oldest niece and Big Mama’s understudy, Diondria.

“Diondria is the new ‘queen of the kitchen,’” Harrison says with a devilish grin. “We call her D…well, her nickname is really something else, but don’t print that! I just love seeing her grow, and now she walks around looking and sounding just like her grandmother in that kitchen.”

While traditional favorites will remain on the menu, Harrison is excited to try out new ideas.

“We’ll be open seven days a week, and our oven-fried-chicken will still taste the same,” she says. “I wanted more dishes for our more selective eaters, and my motto is anything with soul has to have collard-greens involved. Our new Soul-Food Fried Rice was a hit at this year’s Taste of Omaha, and our Lazy May’s Vegan French Fries are new additions to the menu. I also think our classic cranberry-iced tea would be good with a shot of vodka.”

Some things, like Big Mama’s gluten/sugar-free sweet potato pies required some innovation. Unable to recreate the original recipe to their liking, Harrison and her niece made a special gluten/sugar-free pineapple upside-down cake for a diabetic customer. The impressed patron called later to thank Harrison’s niece, telling her that Big Mama must have come down from heaven and cooked it for her.

“We really try our best to make sure everyone’s experience here is a good one,” Harrison says. “My goal is to franchise her name, because almost everything I am is because of my mother. Can’t you see Big Mama’s Kitchens in stadiums and international airports?”

Note: The online version of this article has been modified to correct a typo in Harrison’s name that appeared in the print edition.


Visit bigmamaskitchen.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Pick of the Zip

June 29, 2018 by
Photography by William Hess

Omaha has been named one of America’s “Best Cities for Foodies,” yet we often find ourselves in a self-imposed rut by heading to the same diners for breakfast, the same cafes for lunch, and the same restaurants for dinner.

It’s time to break the cycle and explore outside our daily routines. Whether you’re looking to find a new lunch place near your work, or if you’re planning date night logistics around soccer games and play rehearsals, we’ve developed a list of must-try dish picks for every zip code in the Omaha area (one dish per zip).

Along with zip codes in Omaha city limits, we expanded coverage to incorporate outlying areas (with the Platte River as our western and southern boundary). We also included three Iowa zip codes for a more complete presentation of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. Zip codes are arranged numerically in order.

We couldn’t do this on our own, so we reached out to some of Omaha’s leading food Instagrammers. These foodies know a thing or two about a beautiful meal. We sent them a list of the Omaha metro’s zip codes, and they replied with their dish picks. I curated excerpts from their contributed lists—supplemented by a few picks of my own—to complete this guide. 

Bon appetit!


Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro Area Zip Codes


Meet Our Instagram Foodie Consultants

@OOOOmaha_Eats (Heba Abdel-Rahim)

I started @OOOOmaha_Eats because when I lived in Austin, Texas, I always kept up-to-date with hip, new food joints through foodies’ Instagram accounts. When I moved to Omaha, I wanted to try new places and explore Omaha. I thought, ‘What better way to do so than through food?’ I already was taking pictures of all the new places I was trying, so I started my own foodie account.

@EatOurWorld (Margaret Davenport and Levi Campbell)

Our Instagram account, @EatOurWorld, is a shared endeavor. It began a few years ago when Levi had to design a website for a class and asked Margaret for help. We knew we wanted to do something food-related, so we decided to focus on local dishes, farmers, and products that make any region that we are visiting really stand out. There’s so much good food in Nebraska that has been made or produced here; some of our local dishes are just as good, if not better, than dishes you may find in the world’s leading food tourism destinations. Although we are primarily focused on Lincoln, we also frequent Omaha for dinner excursions.

@TheWalkingTourists (Tim and Lisa Trudell)

Our goal with @TheWalkingTourists Instagram account is to highlight and showcase the sights, eats, and fascinating activities from explorations of our backyard in Omaha and beyond. We hope to inspire people to get out and find new adventures. Together we wrote the book 100 Things to do in Omaha Before You Die, which is available for sale online and in local bookstores. We are also working on another book, Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha, scheduled for spring 2019 release.

@OmahaEat (Yuko Dobashi)

I started my Instagram account to practice food photography and share my recipes and restaurant reviews in Omaha. Posting photos and interacting with other foodies gives me motivation to keep learning about my camera and Photoshop. My goal is to have more photos and recipes published.

@Omaha.Feast (Meredith George)

Instagram has been such a fun way to continue exploring Omaha and connect with friends and family—people love to talk about food and what their favorite places are. Running a “foodstagram” has helped me expand my tastes and push me outside my comfort zone. It’s also encouraged me to #eatlocal and continue to prioritize our awesome local restaurants and chefs.

@FoodOmaha402 (Neal Bierman)

I have loved going out to eat at local restaurants in Omaha ever since my parents started taking me out with them in the ’90s. I want to show Omahans, people in town for business, or folks vacationing in the Big O that there are so many amazing restaurants here. I truly admire and respect all the local restaurant owners, the risk and hard work they put in to start a restaurant, and the staff who make the dining experience so enjoyable. People in Omaha love going out to eat for entertainment, and I want to showcase that through Instagram.


Zip: 51501

Specializing in deep-fried catfish, carp, and Alaskan “walleye” (pollock), Council Bluffs’ Mo Fish (2403 Nash Blvd.) dips customers’ taste buds in an array of fried-fish flavors. Throughout the establishment, fish nets, fish replicas, and other fishy decorations hang from the walls and ceiling. Carpe diem with the carp dinner, which comes with toasted bread and two homemade sides: fries, coleslaw, or baked beans.  

  • Dish pick: carp dinner at Mo Fish
  • Price: $11.95
  • Website: mofishcafe.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 51503

Barley’s (114 W. Broadway in Council Bluffs) offers a broad menu and generous portions of upscale pub food. The Chicken Hawk Sandwich is a big bite: lightly breaded, fried chicken breast topped with ranch dressing, bacon, and Swiss cheese, served with a side of fries. Our foodie consultant declared, “Chick-fil-A had better watch out!”

  • Dish pick: Chicken Hawk Sandwich at Barley’s 
  • Price: $9
  • Website: barleysbar.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 51510

Tacos at Jonesy’s are a local Tex-Mex classic. They aren’t fancy (with their fried shells and processed American cheese), but they are humongous, tasty, and filling. Fans of Jonesy’s can get their fix at four area locations. Two brothers started the restaurant with locations in Aksarben and Council Bluffs; their children expanded the franchise with additional locations in Carter Lake and Council Bluffs. The Carter Lake location (1116 Locust St.) is an offshoot of the Aksarben branch, and it features more American dishes than available at the parent location.

  • Dish pick: tacos at Jonesy’s Taco House Carter Lake
  • Price: $3 (beef or chicken), $3.25 (fish), $3.75 (steak tacos), $2 (beef and chicken) during weekly Taco Tuesdays
  • Facebook: Jonesys Taco House Carter Lake
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 51526

For more than 25 years, Pink Poodle Steakhouse (633 Old Lincoln Highway in Crescent, Iowa) has served sock-hop nostalgia with delicious fare. It was a throwback even when it first opened. Nowadays, not much has changed at the Pink Poodle (including the onion rings, décor, and friendly service). All dinners are served with soup and salad, and come in hearty servings with a poodle…er…doggie…bag that is almost guaranteed to be going home with you.

  • Dish pick: prime rib at Pink Poodle Steakhouse
  • Price: $25 (12-oz. regular cut), $35 (cut-and-a-half), $48 (Diamond Jim cut)
  • Website: pinkpoodlesteakhouse.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68005

In Japanese, “omakase,” translates to “I’ll leave it up to you.” Although pricey, the meal selection is worth considering at any renowned sushi restaurant—especially when the chef is Keen Zheng, who spent roughly 13 years training and working alongside several of the world’s top sushi chefs at Michelin-starred eateries in New York City. Before moving to Bellevue, Zheng worked under Daisuke Nakazawa (head apprentice of Jiro Ono, featured in the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Make the reservation a day in advance for the dining experience at Zheng’s Umami (1504 Galvin Road S.), sit at the sushi bar to watch the master at work, and enjoy. Presentations and fish selection varies. The meal may consist of several dishes of individually presented delicacies.   

  • Dish pick: omakase at Umami 
  • Price: $75-$100 per person
  • Website: umamiasianne.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68007 

If you’re visiting Bennington, roughly 10 miles outside of Omaha’s city limits, you’ll find there are only six or so options for dining. This includes fast food. So where should you dine in Bennington? The short answer is The Warehouse (15835 Center West Hadan Drive), which is known for their friendly service, late hours (they’re open until 11 p.m. or later), and wing sauces. 

  • Dish pick: wings with mango habanero sauce at The Warehouse
  • Price: $6.95 (six wings), $13.25 (12 wings), $24.75 (24 wings)
  • Website: benningtonwarehouse.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68010

The Visitor’s Center Café at Boys Town (13603 Flanagan Blvd.) offers a basic menu of comfort foods when comfort is just what you’re after. With standard cafeteria-style dining, it’s a taste of home, without the dishes and chaos. Open weekdays and open to the general public, breakfast is served 6:45-9:45 a.m.; lunch is served 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

  • Dish pick: western omelet at Boys Town Visitor’s Center Café
  • Price: $4.19
  • Website: boystown.org 
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68022 

It’s easy to imagine Omaha is an island surrounded not by water, but by cornfields. An oasis of civilization surrounded by a rustic escape to homestead living. While that used to be an accurate portrayal, the cities and towns outside of Omaha’s limits have been growing, and now boast a burgeoning cultural scene for which you might want to make the drive. A day in Elkhorn isn’t complete without a stop at Bella Vita (2620 N. Main St.) for a hearty plate of tortellini di manzo, cheese tortellini tossed with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and beef tenderloin tips in a black peppercorn brandy cream sauce.

  • Dish pick: tortellini di manzo at Bella Vita Ristorante
  • Price: $19 (served dinner only)
  • Website: bellavitane.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke 

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Zip: 68028

Situated in Nebraska Crossing (21351 Nebraska Crossing Drive), Local Beer & Patio’s Gretna location brings variety to an area saturated with fast food. The freshest ingredients and the most artfully crafted beer pairings will be the highlight of a day of outlet-mall shopping. The menu’s sandwich choices are legit gourmet. Try the crispy mushroom sandwich: pretzel-breaded portobello mushroom, mayo, spinach, Swiss cheese, artichoke hearts, and tomato on a brioche bun. 

  • Dish pick: crispy mushroom sandwich at Local Beer & Patio
  • Price: $11.50
  • Website: localbeer.co
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68046

Papillion has seen a lot of growth in the last several years, attracting families and businesses alike. As the restaurant scene catches up to the traffic, a front-runner has emerged in Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen (310 E. Gold Coast Road). The establishment is known for its family-friendliness, and your child can count on being treated like a patron rather than simply patronized. Adults are treated to a 3-6 p.m. happy hour and a tantalizing menu that ranges from elegant pesto shrimp gnocchi to hearty pork schnitzel. Our expert chose the pan-seared salmon, which is served with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, hollandaise, and fried leeks. Make it an Oscar (add crab) for just $5 more. 

  • Dish pick: pan-seared salmon at Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen
  • Price: $19 ($24 with crab)
  • Website: ollieandhobbes.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68059

The crispy Buffalo chicken sandwich at Trojan Tavern (167 Main St. in Springfield) is worth the drive. Served in the pub’s famous Ozzie Deluxe sauce, covered in melted Swiss cheese, onions, and tomato, this sandwich is then drizzled with ranch dressing to offer the perfect amount of cooling to the sticky heat between the buns. Also, look for the daily drink specials.

  • Dish pick: crispy Buffalo chicken sandwich at Trojan Tavern
  • Price: $9.95
  • Website: thetrojantavern.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68064

Just outside of Omaha in Valley, Simply Delicious (215 N. Spruce St.) has a big name to live up to. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy, the pan-fried chicken will transport you to your mother’s dinner table. A dish that’s never quite as good when you make it for yourself, Simply Delicious adds a pinch of love to get it just right.

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Zip: 68069

If you’re into cheese, check out El Bee’s (3200 N. 240th St. in Waterloo). While the establishment has been open for decades, they have no official website or Facebook page, but fans of the Tex-Mex spot have maintained a page for them since 2009. Although known for their friendly service and strong margaritas, the fried ice cream takes the prize at this spot. Sweet and crunchy, it’s the perfect ending to the spicy and savory meal.

  • Dish pick: fried ice cream at El Bee’s
  • Price: $5.90 (cash only)
  • Facebook: El Bees
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke 

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Zip: 68102

It seems nearly impossible to choose a place to eat while wandering the Old Market’s endless options, and no matter where you finally stop, you’ll find something a local food artist has tortured themselves to present to perfection. When we finally held their feet to the fire, two of our consultant foodies chose not only the same establishment, but the same dish—Block 16’s Croque Garcon (available at 1611 Farnam St.), a one-third pound, locally-sourced burger with ham, a sunny-side-up egg, mustard, and truffle mayo. How good is the Croque Garcon? Ask Food Network host Alton Brown, who named it his favorite burger in America. 

  • Dish pick: Croque Garcon Burger at Block 16
  • Price: $8.25
  • Website: block16omaha.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast and @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68104 

Booming Benson has turned Maple Street into the place to be when you’re hungry. Your many moods are sure to be satisfied somewhere between the upscale Au Courant and the cozy Leo’s Diner. While choosing one dish from the many options was difficult, our team of foodies couldn’t seem to keep the name Ika Ramen (6324 Maple St.) out of their mouths. Whether it’s the ancient tradition, the painstaking broth process, or the warmth of a bowl of hot, sticky noodles, Ika Ramen takes great care with each dish, and Omaha has taken notice.

  • Dish pick: tonkotsu ramen at Ika Ramen and Izakaya
  • Price: $12
  • Website: ikaramenandizakaya.com 
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68105

The picks for this zip were split, with almost an even number of votes for Greek Islands, Mother India, and Stirnella. So, we consulted Yelp to settle the score. Blame it on longevity, but the winner was the family-owned-and-operated Greek Islands (3821 Center St.). For 35 years, Laki “Bill” and George Sgourakis have offered their loyal patrons a taste of the Mediterranean and a seat at their table. The can’t-miss dish is the saganaki, a thin brick of warm baked cheese. It is brought to your table still sizzling from the oven, where it is doused with brandy and ignited to the festive cry of “Opa!” before being extinguished with the juice from a lemon slice and served on house bread.

  • Dish pick: flaming saganaki at Greek Islands
  • Price: $8.25
  • Website: greekislandsomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68106

Jennifer Coco has gained a reputation for being one of Omaha’s best chefs. Her establishment, J. Coco (5203 Leavenworth St.), ran away with this nomination for the barbacoa short ribs, which are served with creamy corn risotto, tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco. 

  • Dish pick: barbacoa short ribs at J.Coco
  • Price: $27 (served dinner only)
  • Website: jcocoomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast 

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Zip: 68107

Taqueria Tijuana (5139 S. 24th St.) is known as one of the most traditional and authentic of Omaha’s Mexican restaurants. Reviewers praise the menudo, a labor-intensive dish consisting of tripe (beef stomach) and chili base. This dish is often made communally and is part of many family celebrations. Taqueria Tijuana believes that anytime you join them for dinner, it’s reason enough to celebrate with a warm bowl.

  • Dish pick: menudo at Taqueria Tijuana
  • Price: $7 (served weekends only)
  • Facebook: @TaqueriaTijuana402
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68108

For their intense, three-day pizza crust-making process, ornately tiled wood-fired oven, and their handmade pastas, Via Farina (1108 S. 10th St.) was the uncontested winner in 68108. Just outside the Old Market, the restaurant is intimate and friendly, with a knowledgeable staff and extensive wine list. The majority of our foodie consultants chose Via Farina, but there was some disagreement about which dish deserved the crowning glory. After cross-referencing online reviews, the egg yolk raviolio beat out the bianco pizza for the top spot.

  • Dish pick: egg yolk raviolo at Via Farina
  • Price: $14
  • Website: goviafarina.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68110

Get-N-Go Fish (1706 N. 24th St.) is only open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. How did a restaurant that’s only open half of the week (and closes before most people have even realized they forgot to thaw something for dinner and need to order take-out) make this list? Simple. The catfish. When you do something really well, you get to choose when you do it. 

  • Dish pick: whole catfish dinner at Get-N-Go Fish
  • Price: $12
  • Website: getngofish.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68111

When Big Mama’s Kitchen (3223 N. 45th St.) lost owner and chef “Big Mama” Patricia Barron earlier this year, the family pulled together to maintain her legacy and mission: to bring you to her table. Her special-recipe fried chicken never lost its ability to get the family to sit down and hush, and the owners make sure you know that even though Big Mama is gone, you’re still family. The restaurant is currently located in the 68104 zip code, but is scheduled to move into the 68111 zip code (2112 N. 30th St.) after the Highlander Accelerator’s construction completes. 

  • Dish pick: oven-fried chicken at Big Mama’s Kitchen
  • Price: $9.29 (two pieces with one side), $10.89 (three pieces with one side); $11.99 (two pieces with two sides), $12.99 (three pieces with two sides)
  • Website: bigmamaskitchen.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 

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Zip: 68112

A former food truck has emerged as one of Omaha’s hottest barbecue joints. Fat BBQ Shack (7440 N. 30th St.) still honors its former identity with heavy traffic from carry-out customers. But you might want to dine in, with blues music on the house speakers and wafting aromas of savory, sweet barbecue hot off the grill. Out of all the meat and sandwich options on the menu, the Shack Attack stands out. This mouth-watering behemoth comes with hand-cut fries topped with your choice of meat, barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing, jalapeños, and chives. Don’t forget to share.

  • Dish pick: The Shack Attack at Fat BBQ Shack
  • Price: $8.99, add $1.49 for extra meat
  • Website: fatbbqshack.biz
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68113

Offutt Air Force Base has its own zip code, but the meal options are limited to those with base access (or retired military and their families); however, Offutt does welcome the general public during certain special occasions. The public relations team at Offutt claims that Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes has been a hit “for many, many years.” But for those lacking base access, there is the wonderful Korean House Restaurant (2413 Lincoln Road)—which is technically just outside Offut’s zip code in Bellevue—situated just beside the entry gate to the base. The restaurant looks a bit sketchy on the outside, but the tables are clean and the juicy kalbee (fried chicken bulgogi and beef bulgogi) is well-seasoned and comes with free kimchi side dishes. 

  • Dish pick: Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes (for those with base access); house special at Korean House Restaurant (for those without base access)
  • Price: $6.25 full portion, $5 half portion (Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes, served Wednesdays during lunch); $9.75 (bulgogi, chicken, kalbee, and drink at Korean House)
  • Facebook: @Offutt55fss & Korean House
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke (Peacekeeper Lanes) and @OmahaEat (Korean House Restaurant)

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Zip: 68114 

“El basha” was an Arabic term for “the elite society” during the Turkish and Ottoman empires. The unassuming atmosphere at El Basha restaurant (7503 Pacific St.) combined with the very reasonable prices may not strike you as “upper crust,” but the expertly balanced dishes and deep spices create the richest of flavor experiences. Our team chose the tender beef shawarma (which can also be made with chicken) from the extensive menu.

  • Dish pick: hummus with beef shawarma at El Basha
  • Price: $7.50
  • Website: elbashagrill.com
  • Chosen by: @OOOOmaha_Eats

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Zip: 68116

Wave Bistro (4002 N. 144th St.) boasts a large but focused menu of European- and Asian-inspired dishes created by chef/owner George Liao. His wife and co-owner, Connie, runs the front of the house, and the family’s warmth and charm are as much a reason to enjoy Wave Bistro as the exceptional food. 

  • Dish pick: shrimp roll with firecracker sauce at Wave Bistro
  • Price: $8.95 (served dinner only)
  • Website: wavebistrorestaurant.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68117

Puerto Vallarta (4871 L St.) is a Tex-Mex party any day of the week. The restaurant serves various forms of meat and beans on tortillas and also has an exceptional salsa. But don’t miss the molcajetes: tender slices of ribeye, chicken, pork, shrimp, chorizo, scallops, or tilapia grilled with mushrooms, squash, Mexican onions, and nopal (cactus) served in a molcajete, a traditional grinding bowl. 

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Zip: 68118

An Omaha favorite for years, Pitch West (17808 Burke St.) offers house-cured meats, house-made pastas, and coal-fired pizza with an artistic touch. The Mia (pizza) features San Marzano tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, house-made fennel sausage, and pepperoni. 

  • Dish pick: The Mia at Pitch
  • Price: $20
  • Website: pitchpizzeria.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld and @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68122 

Chosen by three of our reviewers, each for a different dish, Mangia Italiana (6516 Irvington Road) has something for everyone. For a truly unique experience, get there in March and try their Italian Reuben pizza featuring an olive oil and fresh garlic base, roasted red pepper dressing, corned beef, sauerkraut, and provolone on Mangia’s signature crust.

  • Dish pick: pizza rosso (whole milk mozzarella, asiago, romano, parmesan, and provolone) at Mangia Italiana
  • Price: $13.99 (10-inch), $16.99 (13-inch), $19.99 (16-inch) 
  • Website: mangiaitaliana.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68123

The most devilish spot on our list—Sinful Burger (4005 Twin Creek Drive)—has an offense to fit any occasion. Choosing from the sins themselves is a crime, but Lust has never steered anyone wrong. A half-pound patty smothered in basil pesto, bleu cheese, and from-scratch garlic mayo.

  • Dish pick: Lust at Sinful Burger
  • Price: $8.99
  • Website: sinfulburger.com 
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68124

This area boasts at least two spectacular steakhouses, but we chose The Drover (2121 S. 73rd St.). The steakhouse has made a science of seasoning and artistry of marinade. Your cut doesn’t receive the whiskey treatment or the secret spices until after you order it. At that point, it sits and waits until the optimal flavor window before being grilled to your specifications. Time-consuming? Yes. Worth it? Yes. (Tip: Try adding marinated mushrooms to the order).

  • Dish pick: whiskey steak sirloin at Drover (served dinner only)
  • Price: $26.95, add $8.50 for a bowl of mushrooms (enough for two or three people) 
  • Website: droverrestaurant.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68127

Korea Garden Restaurant (5352 S. 72nd St.) offers authentic Korean cuisine in Ralston. The restaurant provides a range of fresh dishes, from plates of stir-fried octopus to bowls of bibimbap or the classic beef bulgogi (a popular Korean dish of marinated beef slices in a special house sauce cooked over a tabletop grill). Also, make sure to savor the banchan—appetizer dishes such as kimchi, gimbap, japchae, and potatoes—and don’t be shy to ask for free refills on the sides. 

  • Dish pick: beef bulgogi at the Korean Garden Restaurant 
  • Price: $10.95
  • Website: koreangardenomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68128

The La Vista area food scene is expanding, but nothing can overcome Omaha’s affection for any dish named after, well, us. The Omaha Potato Casserole at Summer Kitchen Café (12010 Giles Road) features lean ground beef grilled with onions and mushrooms, American, Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, sliced tomato, and pickle chips.

  • Dish pick: Omaha Potato Casserole at Summer Kitchen Café
  • Price: $9.99 (junior), $11.99 (regular), $13.00 (king), add $1.39 for an egg on top
  • Website: summerkitchen.net
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68130

Legacy Gyros (16920 Wright Plaza) had some stiff competition but still managed to win this vote. Reviewers mentioned the Turkish coffee—which isn’t easy to find in Omaha—and the pride the owner takes in his establishment as reasons to visit.

  • Dish pick: the classic gyro at Legacy Gyros
  • Price: $6.99
  • Website: legacygyros.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68131

While Blackstone has no shortage of must-try eateries, Dante Pizzeria Napoletana (3852 Farnam St.) still manages to stand out for its quality ingredients, friendly staff, and fast-fine atmosphere. Choosing a single dish from the menu is akin to traveling with Virgil to the third circle of the inferno. Our reviewers failed to come to a consensus, so we executed judgment after much deliberation. The Diavolo was the eventual front-runner, with soppressata, link sausage, Calabrian chili, garlic, and mozzarella. It is truly sinful. 

  • Dish pick: Diavolo at Dante Pizzeria Napoletana
  • Price: $13
  • Website: dantepizzeria.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 and @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68132 

Chef/owner Dario Schicke doesn’t serve food he wouldn’t serve his family, and his Northern Italian-inspired Avoli Osteria (5013 Underwood Ave.) is no exception. The seasonal menu always has something new to try, but the Bolognese bianco (pork and veal Bolognese) with toasted hazelnuts and pecorino Romano cheese on rigatoni won our reviewer’s vote.

  • Dish pick: Bolognese bianco (now simply called “rigatoni” on the menu) at Avoli Osteria
  • Price: $18
  • Website: avoliosteria.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 68133

Some zip codes on the periphery of Omaha offer slim pickings aside from national franchise chains and fast food. The southern reaches of Papillion are a case in point. The Hop House Bar & Grill (11425 S. 72nd St.) offers an alternative. Now to choose from the most-delicious deep-fried morsel on the menu. Why not get it all? The sampler platter offers just this opportunity with mac & cheese bites, onion rings, jalapeño poppers, fried spicy pub pickles, and fried battered cauliflower.

  • Dish pick: sampler platter at The Hop House Bar & Grill 
  • Price: $12.99
  • Website: hophousebar.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68134

A small spot with big, fat Greek portions, Jim and Jennie’s (3026 N. 90th St.) offers a vast menu filled with flavor. Loved for their generous dishes, authentic flavors, and warm atmosphere, Jim and Jennie’s was the destination of choice among our contributors, but the winning dish was up for debate. Ultimately, the stuffed eggplant papoutsakia came out on top. Eggplant filled with seasoned ground beef and béchamel, the dish is topped with kasseri cheese and served with Greek potatoes.  

  • Dish pick: stuffed eggplant papoutsakia at Jim and Jennie’s Greek Village
  • Price: $11 (served Saturdays only)
  • Website: jimandjennies.com 
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68135

Locally sourced, fun, and delicious, Over Easy (16859 Q St.) was the runaway winner for West O. While the establishment received hard nods for the corned beef hash, roasted portabello sandwich, and hash brown rounds, they won for their clever, house-made Pop Tarts. Choose between the seasonal fruit and Nutella, whether dining in or hitting the drive-through. Whatever you do, choose to pop by.

  • Dish pick: Pop Tarts at Over Easy
  • Price: $3.99
  • Website: overeasyomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 and @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68136

Ling’s Asian Cuisine (6909 S. 157th St.), previously known as “Vietnamese Restaurant,” sits humbly in a strip mall, just waiting to offer you a cup of iced Vietnamese coffee. You’re treated with the same hospitality whether you’re dining in or carrying out, and the menu offers most pan-Asian favorites, from pad thai to kung pao. The owners are originally from Taiwan and used to run a popular Chinese restaurant in Lincoln. They are bringing a special Taiwanese beef noodle soup to the menu in the future.

  • Dish pick: vermicelli rice noodle bowl at Ling’s Asian Cuisine
  • Price: $10
  • Website: lingsasiancuisine.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68137 

Shirley’s Diner (13838 R Plaza) hosts a cult following for being as warm as a greasy spoon, minus the grease. A clean and well-managed establishment, the staff is warm and the décor is updated old-school. The comfort-classic praised by our foodie was the Country Sunrise. The homemade biscuit with a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, and creamy sausage gravy will keep you satisfied until lunch…tomorrow.

  • Dish pick: Country Sunrise at Shirley’s Diner
  • Price: $9.99
  • Website: shirleysdiner.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68138

Azteca (9429 S. 142nd St.) is an easy stop off I-80 at 144th Street. The restaurant is a welcome place to rest for weary travelers, but locals make the stop for a variety of reasons. The generous portions, friendly staff, and the piña colada are all reason enough to pop in. Azteca offers a mostly basic Tex-Mex menu, but they do it well. The Azteca Burrito Supreme stands up to its name, showcasing the best of the basic. The monster starts off with rice, beans, and choice of ground beef, pork, or chicken in a flour tortilla, which is then smothered with burrito sauce and topped with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and guacamole.

  • Dish pick: Azteca Burrito Supreme at Azteca Mexican Restaurant
  • Price: $9.95
  • Website: aztecaomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68142

A fun spot to watch a game, grab a drink, or enjoy a casual dinner with friends, Ryan’s Food & Spirits (12221 Mary Plaza) does more than catering. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available at the sports bar, with an extensive upscale menu available on the bistro side. The steak lafa wrap is a stand-out dish from an exceptional menu. The dish features herbed cream cheese, balsamic cranberry chutney, caramelized onions, and mixed greens with marinated grilled skirt steak.

  • Dish pick: steak lafa wrap at Ryan’s Food & Spirits
  • Price: $11.95
  • Website: rgcateringevents.com 
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 68144

Several of our foodie consultants selected Little España as their Rockbrook favorite, possibly unaware that the establishment closed April 14. (Don’t tell them, OK?) The other name on their lips was Jaipur Indian Restaurant and Brewing Co. (10922 Elm St.). Delicious, from-scratch Indian fare is perfectly paired with their jalapeño ale (brewed on-site), friendly staff, and biryani. The winning dish was the chicken tikka madras, spiced boneless chicken in coconut milk sauce. 

  • Dish pick: chicken tikka madras at Jaipur Indian Restaurant and Brewing Co.
  • Price: $18.95
  • Website: jaipurindianfood.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 68147

Known for their signature “Toad” (a unique take on a fried taco), Nettie’s (7110 Railroad Ave.) is an old-school community favorite. The huevos con chorizo comes with two eggs scrambled with Mexican sausage, served with rice, beans, and tortillas.

  • Dish pick: huevos con chorizo at Nettie’s
  • Price: $14.95
  • Facebook: @NettiesFineMexicanFood
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68152

The Cabin Bar and Grill (9226 Mormon Bridge Road) is not fancy. But it is filling. Frontier pioneers would have approved of these portions. The prime rib is as big as the plate, and comes with a hearty serving of veggies and potatoes on the side. The gizzards are hand-breaded. But our pick comes from the menu’s “signature items,” the Triple Decker Reuben. The Cabin’s signature Reuben comes with home-cooked corned beef and the traditional fixings of sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, and is covered in melted Swiss cheese. 

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Zip: 68154

Generous portions of nutritious food in an eco-friendly environment make Greenbelly (210 N. 114th St.) a go-to destination for Omaha’s health-minded. Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options abound in the green-themed eatery, which also offers compostable, corn-based containers and cutlery. The Thai salmon salad won out, with grilled salmon, mixed spring greens, green onion, cilantro, and peanuts in a sweet Thai chili sauce and a side of Thai peanut dressing.

  • Dish pick: Thai salmon salad at Greenbelly
  • Price: $9.99 (baby), $10.99 (regular)
  • Website: thegreenbelly.com
  • Chosen by: @OOOOmaha_Eats

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Zip: 68157

The kitschy and fun 80’s Snack Shack (4733 Giles Road) that opened early this year across from Bryan High is an unassuming spot you may not notice if you aren’t looking for it. A glass of strawberry water is a fun twist and a refreshing kick after any of the spicy dishes on the Mexican menu. 

  • Dish pick: pork tamales with two street tacos at 80’s Snack Shack
  • Price: $6
  • Facebook: @80sMunchies 
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68164

Hiro 88 in West Omaha (3655 N. 129th St.), which famed Japanese architect Hiroshi Nakamura helped design, is a premier Omaha destination for high-end Japanese and pan-Asian cuisine. Three Instagrammers suggested separate dishes: tempura udon (soup with creamy noodles and crispy shrimp), the Golden Gate roll (with tuna, shrimp, crab mix, avocado, and cucumber), and the negi hamachi roll (with yellowtail and green onions). Call us biased, but we deferred to the judgment of the Instagrammer with Japanese heritage.

  • Dish pick: negi hamachi roll at Hiro 88
  • Price: $7.50
  • Website: hiro88.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68178

Creighton University has its own zip code, but the campus dining options are restricted to students. In the 68102 zip code, across the street from campus, China Taste (1702 Cuming St.) is popular for affordable Chinese meals. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is only $7.75, and the steamed dumplings received rave reviews from Creighton students and staff. But when it comes to eating on campus, the Rev. Lorn Snow suggests the public drop by St. John’s Church for Mass at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, and stay for the free coffee and donuts after the service. 

  • Dish pick: Steamed dumplings at China Taste (next to campus); coffee and donuts at St. John’s Church (on campus)
  • Price: $4.65 (for six steamed dumplings); free (coffee and donuts)
  • Website: chinatasteomaha.com and stjohns-creighton.org
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Do you have a local food Instagram account we should be following? Drop us a comment, and be sure to follow us back @OmahaMagazine. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Together A Greater Good

December 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A mobile-friendly app created by two Omaha marketing pros has made giving to local charities easy for shoppers around town.

When folks download and use the Together A Greater Good app, they can scan their purchases from local participating businesses—including Big Mama’s Kitchen, The Bookworm, and Greenstreet Cycles—and donate a portion of the receipt amount to charities like American Cancer Society, the Open Door Mission, or a local school.

TAGG, founded in 2012, is the brainchild of Holly Baker and Leslie Fischer. Baker and Fischer studied marketing and business (Baker at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fischer at the University of Nebraska-Omaha). The two met in 2007 while working at another startup, GiftCertificates.com. Although the two worked together for less than a year, the hectic, frenzied work environment helped forge a future partnership.

“You kind of bond through chaos,” Fischer says.

After leaving GiftCertificates.com, Fischer worked for the construction company EAD. While at EAD, Fischer juggled administrative, human resources, and marketing duties.

Coincidentally, both Baker and Fischer were pregnant around the same time while employed in their respective former jobs (Fischer at EAD, Baker at Qualia Clinical Services). Their gestations corresponded to the genesis of TAGG. When Baker was pregnant with her first child, she heard that Qualia was shuttering its Omaha operations. Around that time, Fischer asked Baker to help with some projects at EAD. And while Fischer was on maternity leave, she began brainstorming business ideas. One idea came from constantly being barraged by “cute kids wanting to sell stuff” for fundraising.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this…”

– Leslie Fischer

Fischer says she remembers Baker saying, “Doesn’t there have to be a better way than this poor kid schlepping through all the neighborhoods?”

For Fischer and Baker, the Groupon business model kept coming up. The popular web coupon site Groupon offers different deals for products, services, and events. Specifically, Fischer and Baker were interested in taking Groupon’s voucher system for deals and applying it to fundraising. From early 2011 until May 2012, Baker and Fischer kept bouncing ideas around.

In May 2012, Baker and Fischer quit their jobs to devote all of their resources into launching TAGG.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this,’” Fischer says.

Baker was pregnant at the time.

“I thought I was going to have a miscarriage from stress,” Baker says.


tagg1For most businesses, the first year of operation comes with a few horror stories. For Baker and Fischer, theirs revolved around the key component of TAGG—its website. After quitting in May 2012, Baker and Fischer planned to launch TAGG around the Fourth of July of that year. Unfortunately, the website developer, who was working in Colorado, hadn’t completed the back-end work for the website.

“I ended up spending the Fourth of July on the phone with our lawyer to get our code from this guy,” Fischer says.

Fischer and Baker agreed it was best to scrap the design and start fresh. They relaunched that fall.

Since launching, TAGG has gained 175 businesses committed to donating 5 percent of customers’ scanned receipts to local charities. Twenty thousand people have downloaded the TAGG app. And TAGG now operates out of a West Omaha office, a far cry from kitchen table conversations that created TAGG.

“It feels like forever ago, and yesterday at the same time,” Fischer says.

Visit togetheragreatergood.com for more information.

Now Serving Omaha

February 10, 2015 by

Ranked as a Top 10 Foodie City by Livability.com, Omaha’s reputation as a great dining destination continues to grow. In choosing Omaha, Livability.com raves, “Innovative chefs throughout the city are creating sensational menus that surprise many visitors.” The Grey Plume and Boiler Room are constantly receiving high praise from national food critics. Open Table’s “100 Hottest Restaurants in America” list includes Pitch Pizzeria in the Dundee neighborhood, and the Food Network has featured Big Mama’s Kitchen, California Taco, and Brewburgers on its national broadcasts.

To capitalize on the growing interest and to increase awareness about Omaha’s culinary landscape, the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) just started its own web series called “Now Serving Omaha.” Each month a new restaurant is featured in a short video webisode that is distributed to more than 165,000 people from all over the country via the CVB’s social media network. There is also a dedicated webpage featuring all of the videos at visitomaha.com/nowservingomaha.

In addition, the Omaha CVB partnered with Food and Travel magazine, a national publication with a readership of more than 81,000, to create a full-page editorial showcasing many of Omaha’s beloved restaurants such as The Drover, Piccolo Pete’s, Dundee Dell, Johnny’s Café, Crescent Moon, and Blue Sushi. Thanks to a Nebraska Tourism-sponsored media tour, Omaha restaurants have also received media coverage in magazines in Austin, Texas, Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City, Mo.

So is all the attention focused on promoting Omaha restaurants worth it? Consider this: Research shows out-of-town visitors spend more than $274 million a year dining out in Omaha restaurants. So the answer is a resounding yes—Omaha is serving up travel-worthy food and visitors are eating it up.

Dana Markel is Executive Director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau. Questions or comments? Email the Omaha CVB at info@visitomaha.com.

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Big Mama, Bigger Heart

October 1, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Patricia Givens Barron, the woman behind Big Mama’s Kitchen in North Omaha, is known for her soul food. And for giving folks who’ve run afoul of the law a second chance.

Her desire to give individuals reentering society a break is not some vague, do-gooder’s impulse; rather, it’s a deeply felt advocacy and activist calling borne of personal experience and heartache.

The North Omaha native grew up the daughter of popular band leader Basie Givens. After a four-year U.S. Navy hitch, then decades in the telecommunications industry, Barron, who did catering on the side, opened her restaurant in 2007. Her interest in giving a helping hand began long before—when two of her daughters went to prison.

“It was such a shock,” Big Mama says, “because they had been raised in a Christian home with a mother and a father.”

Even after serving time and turning their lives around, her daughters struggled finding societal acceptance.

“They finished college. One became a counselor and the other one a nurse, only you could not get a license if you were a felon. I watched them go through the process. It took them a couple years to get their record expunged. The thing I went through with my daughters gave me an awareness” about a problem in our community. “How many other people went wayward, and it will be held against them the rest of their lives so that they can’t get a job or can’t get into a certain profession? I decided whenever I opened my restaurant, I’m going to hire felons and give people a second chance.”

Barron knows first-hand the power of second chances. She experienced two failed marriages, including one involving abuse, before finding the love of her life. It was on an operating table that she underwent a pivotal spiritual experience. She was called to serve a larger purpose.

Through her church she became active in Crossroads Connection, a ministry outreach to inmates. She believes the barriers ex-offenders face are the root of many inner city ills. She and then-State Senator Brenda Council tried getting a bill passed banning the felony box on applications. The attempt failed, but Barron’s still doing her part.

“We’re promised the pursuit of happiness in this country,” she says. “One should be able to pursue their happiness even if they are a felon. I feel like I’ve lived a pretty decent life, and so now it’s time for me to give back and to help other people pursue that happiness. If it’s by offering jobs, by giving second chances, that’s what I’m going to do because I feel like that’s my purpose.”

One of the first people she helped was her granddaughter, Diondria Harrison, who was incarcerated several years ago. After her release Barron took her on. Today Harrison is the lead cook at Big Mama’s.

Right from the start Barron, whose place has been featured on The Food Network, made it known she cut ex-cons a break. She hosted job fairs for ex-offenders that attracted hundreds.

“When I opened my restaurant most of my help was on work release,” she adds. “They worked for me during the day and went back to jail at night.”

Her open hiring policy led her to partner with others on reentry employment efforts and to offer internships to at-risk youth.

People regularly show up looking for their second chance. A woman who served 14 years in military prison for killing her abusive husband heard about Big Mama’s and had her parole officer inquire about a job when she got out. Eager to learn the culinary trade, the woman didn’t wait for a reply. The day she arrived there was no job available, so  she eagerly shadowed kitchen staff before being hired as a waitress. Today, she’s working another job and nearing completion of her culinary degree at Metropolitan Community College.

“I understood where she was coming from,” Barron says. “Through all that she’s been through, she’s really kept it together. She loves to cook. Loves to bake. And that’s what I’m about, so she just fit in perfectly. She’s doing very well on her own now.”

Cornell Austin didn’t know about Barron’s big heart for felons when he appeared seeking a job after his release from prison. He’d caught her on television and, with years of food service experience behind him, he figured Big Mama’s would be a good place to start over—if its owner would get past his criminal background. She did.

“I had tried at a lot of places,” Austin says, “but I had that felony hanging over my head. When I interviewed with her I was apprehensive to tell the truth about my background, but I decided to put everything on the table. I told her what happened. She accepted it. And she didn’t judge me. She gave me a shot at a new beginning. She helped me change to be the man I am today. She gave me another chance to believe in myself—that I can make mistakes, but I can also achieve things in life as well.”

Austin now cooks at the Doubletree Hilton and still helps Big Mama on occasion. He’s only months from getting his culinary degree at Metro. He hopes to one day open his own catering business.

Barron’s happy for Austin. “Everything is going great for him. I am so proud of him. I’m glad to be a part of his life to help him get on track. He’s another black man that got on track, so I feel good about that.”

Not every ex-offender works out, she says.

“We’ve been burned by people who stole from us, lied to us, but that’s on them. I don’t let that stop me or discourage me. Most people really want to change their lives. They just need to be given a chance.

Barron, who estimates she’s employed some 200 ex-offenders, says offering folks a fresh start “makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something and that my purpose here is being fulfilled.”

Cornell Austin and countless others would agree.