Tag Archives: Tim Clark

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.

Potash Twins

October 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha once reigned as a major live music hub where scores of legendary artists came to perform. Many resident musicians who got their chops here used Omaha as a springboard to forge fat careers on 
the coasts.

The local African-American music scene was particularly lively from the 1930s into the 1970s, with jumping venues and jam sessions galore.

Then, that halcyon time faded away.

Now, identical twins Ezra and Adeev Potash of Omaha, two fast-rising horn players with crazy close ties to such living-legend jazz greats as Wynton Marsalis and Jon Faddis, are intent on reviving that long dormant scene. Nominated for Best Jazz for the 2014 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards, they recently became co-artistic directors at the Love’s Jazz & Arts Center in Omaha. The twins, who turned 20 this fall, booked an all-star lineup of local artists at LJAC through 2013, headlining some dates themselves.

But it’s all a prelude for something grander. In collaboration with LJAC executive director Tim Clark the brothers are busy raising funds to underwrite a 2014-2015 lineup of jazz superstars. Many prospective guest artists are personal friends and colleagues of the twins in New York City, where the Westside High School graduates study music.

The brothers and Clark want nothing less than to create a world-class jazz club at the center, whose jazzman namesake, Omaha’s own Preston Love Sr., played with Count Basie and came of age in local nightspots like the Dreamland Ballroom. All the jazz giants played there or at Allen’s Showcase and other
long-gone venues.

Clark says, “What’s so exciting about the twins is their enthusiasm and their sincere desire to preserve one of America’s original art forms, jazz, and to put Omaha back on the map as a national jazz hub. They’re very serious about their craft and making jazz a priority in Omaha. They bring a breath of fresh air.”

“We’re going to try to raise the money to do the season right,” says Ezra, who plays trombone, tuba, and sousaphone.“We’re meeting with donors to prove to them our passion and our vision to get what we need to become a sustainable jazz club. The thing we want people in Omaha to know is that we have the connections to bring in the biggest names in jazz. The only way we can make it happen is if Omaha gives us the resources to make it happen. We’re really close to getting it.

“Now is the time. Omaha’s really thriving as a city and becoming known for its arts. Jazz is a historical music with strong Midwest roots. North Omaha was a center of jazz, and it can be that again.”

Adeev, who plays trumpet, says, “We want to make Love’s Jazz an attraction for not only the Midwest but around the country. You won’t have to go to 18th and Vine in Kansas City or to the Dakota Club in Minneapolis to listen to great jazz.”

There are plans to upgrade the acoustics at LJAC to “make it a state-of-the-art performance space,” says Ezra.

As unlikely as it sounds that two suburban Jewish-Americans barely out of their teens should lead a jazz revival in the heart of Omaha’s black community, it’s just par for the course for the twins. At 15, their chutzpah translated into a private lesson with trumpet master Marsalis after sneaking backstage at the Lied Performing Arts Center in Lincoln following a gig by his Lincoln 
Center Jazz Orchestra.

They appreciate what they have with Marsalis, who’s introduced them to other jazz icons, some of whom they’ve played with.

“Because of our relationship with Wynton we’re able to meet, hang out with, and learn from the best musicians in the world,” says Ezra. “We have a lot of awesome opportunities. We’re always eager to learn. And we like sharing with Omaha what we’re exposed to.”

Faddis confirms the brothers are “not shy” in approaching accomplished players like himself, Marsalis, and Jonathan Batiste for “pointers.” That networking has the brothers getting schooled by the best in the field.

“We’re living jazz history,” says Adeev, who studies under Faddis. “Wynton is the modern Coltrane. Jon Faddis is the disciple of Dizzy Gillespie. I feel honored to be part of the legacy they’ll leave me.”

Clark describes the twins as ambassadors, but the brothers also enjoy the limelight. In March, they performed at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, where they led an impromptu New Orleans-style “second line” parade down Sixth Street that National Public Radio featured. A film crew following them for a proposed reality TV series was there and at the May Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting, where the brothers performed. They also did a recent talk at October’s TEDx Omaha event on the Creighton University campus.

Their talk and performance there focused on the intuitive communication and bond twins enjoy, an asset that is magnified on stage. “Twins in general like to finish each other’s sentences,” says Adeev, “and that kind of works the same in jazz.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.