Tag Archives: Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering

Recipe for Success

November 22, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In the case of the restaurant business, only about 20% of head chefs are women, according to 2016 U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Those who run kitchens know the job requires planning menus, prepping ingredients, hiring staff, ordering supplies, putting in long hours with few breaks, pleasing customers, investing time and money, and creating opportunities to grow. And a passion for food.

As head baker, chef, certified sommelier, and owner of Farine + Four, Ellie Pegler knows full well the hard work running a business requires. Before launching her organic bakery-cafe near 30th and Leavenworth streets, the Lincoln, Nebraska, native trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York and worked at some of the city’s top restaurants.

She moved back to Nebraska to open Farine + Four, which offers an assortment of sweet and savory baked goods, breakfast and lunch fare, coffee drinks, chocolate bonbons, and more. The business, which turns two in January, fills a void in the local culinary scene, said Pegler, who also produces baguettes, buns, croissants, and other baked goods for more than a dozen restaurants around town.

Pegler is among a growing number of women restaurateurs. Between 2007 and 2012, women-owned restaurants increased by 40 percent, according to the National Restaurant Association. The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners. A 2017 report has not yet been released.

Although many women co-own or manage restaurants, the restaurant business is a traditionally male-dominated field. In Omaha, where the food scene continues to diversify and gain national attention, there are a number of women-owned restaurants, bars, bakeries, coffeeshops, and cafes. Running a successful restaurant can be tough for anyone, but women face unique challenges. Some argue that women restaurateurs have a harder time obtaining startup capital and getting recognition. There are other hurdles, too.

Pegler, who started working in professional kitchens as a teenager, said women in the restaurant industry too often are not taken as seriously as men. Confident, assertive women, particularly those in leadership roles, are sometimes seen as angry or mean. She’s had to deal with male employees who questioned her authority and resisted taking direction from her. And, Pegler said, she’s “constantly expected to be motherly” because she’s a woman.

Popular midtown diner Lisa’s Radial Cafe is known for its hearty breakfasts, big crowds, and casual, friendly vibe. Open since 1940 at 40th and Cuming streets, the business changed hands a few times before Lisa Schembri and her family bought it in 2000, adding “Lisa’s” to the cafe’s name. When Schembri ruptured her aorta in 2003, daughter Jennifer Maguire stepped in to handle day-to-day tasks. After Schembri’s death in December 2016, the family made the decision to keep the Radial going.

Jennifer Maguire at Lisa's Radial Cafe

Jennifer Maguire of Lisa’s Radial Cafe

Maguire said it’s rewarding to be able to carry on the tradition. “I’ve learned a lot from my mom, but I think the most important thing I’ve learned is the value of relationships with your staff, customers, and vendors,” Maguire said. “The cafe’s success is based largely on those relationships and our
family atmosphere.”

Every job has its downsides—but for women, it’s especially tough. Women in the restaurant business are held to a higher standard, Maguire said. “We have to work twice as hard to prove to our male counterparts that we have what it takes, and we have to be likable while doing it.”

But being a woman-owned business also has its advantages. There are resources available for female entrepreneurs, including becoming a certified woman-owned business, which can help bring visibility and lead to opportunities for growth and networking.

The culinary world can be even more difficult for women of color. Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering founder Patricia Barron opened her soul food restaurant in north Omaha when she was 65. Her age, along with her race and gender, put her in the position of having to shatter several glass ceilings at once.

Barron died in March 2018, but her family continues to run the business. Daughter Gladys Harrison, former manager and now owner, said her mom’s plan to start a restaurant was met with pushback from lenders, who thought she was too old to start a business and, despite decades of cooking and catering, lacked experience.

In 2007, Barron realized her dream of opening a restaurant. Her made-from-scratch soul food dishes, sweet potato desserts, and warm personality drew customers. Business took off in 2008 when Big Mama’s Kitchen was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The restaurant also appeared on the Travel Channel and Sundance Channel.

Big Mama’s will soon move from 45th Street and Bedford Avenue to its new home in the Highlander Accelerator Building, a commercial and community center at 30th and Parker streets. Harrison is excited to be a part of the revitalized north Omaha neighborhood and to fulfill a promise she made to her mom. “She said, ‘Gladys, that’s your charge, to take the restaurant to the next level.’”

Many new restaurants fail in the first year. Keeping Big Mama’s Kitchen going for 12 years brings Harrison and her family a sense of accomplishment and pride. While obstacles exist, those who are persistent, creative, willing to embrace technology, and prepared to work hard, Harrison said,
can succeed.

She urged aspiring restaurateurs to sign up for entrepreneurial classes, explore mentorships and apprenticeships, and learn how to write a business plan and market themselves. “This is the time for women,” Harrison said. “I encourage any woman—whatever you want to do, do it.”

Visit farineandfour.com, @lisasradialcafe on Facebook, and bigmamaskitchen.com for information about the featured restaurants.

This article was printed in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

#OmahaMunchMadness 2018

July 6, 2018 by and
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

For the main feature article (read it here) in Omaha Magazine’s July/August issue, we determined there are 49 zip codes in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area. 

We worked with a freelance food writer and a team of foodie-influencers on Instagram to assemble a list of one dish for every zip code.

Once we compiled the list, writer Sara Locke, editors, and the Instagrammers collaborated on narrowing the list down to the 32 most popular dishes in the zip code guide. 

Why did we narrow the field to 32?

Because it is time for Munch Madness! 

Munch Madness is Omaha Magazine’s take on March Madness (but with dishes representing zip codes). And instead of one month, this contest will span July and August.

We will announce the date pairings in this initial Round of 32 zip code picks at our July/August magazine launch at the Florence Mill on July 8. Zip codes will be randomly paired for the Round of 32. The subsequent round of Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and Championship will be determined by polls on Facebook.

Come back to this page for updates on the bracket and times. We will update the bracket as Munch Madness progresses. Each pairing will have 24 hours before a winner is declared.

Voting will take place on Facebook at @OmahaMagazine. We will tag each poll with the hashtag #OmahaMunchMadness to make the polls easier to find on Facebook.

Do you disagree with our team’s selections for each zip code? If you disagree with any zip code picks, let us know on Instagram at @OmahaMagazine by following these steps; we will repost your alternate zip code pick to spread the love:

  • Upload a photo of the dish you think is more worthy to Instagram.
  • Check in at the restaurant.
  • Write the name of the dish along with the hashtag #OmahaMunchMadness in the caption of the Instagram post.
  • Tag us at @OmahaMagazine

Most of all, we hope Munch Madness makes you hungry. Whether you agree or disagree with our zip code picks, don’t forget to vote in the Best of Omaha contest here: https://omahamagazine.com/best-of-omaha/.


Round of 32

July 9th
Azteca Burrito Supreme (68138) vs. Crispy Mushroom Sandwich (68028)
WINNER: Azteca Burrito Supreme (68138)

July 10th
Bolognese Bianco (68132) vs. Whole Catfish Dinner (68110)
WINNER: Bolognese Bianco (68132)

July 11
Oven-Fried Chicken (68111) vs. Hummus with Beef Shawarma (68114)
WINNER: Oven-Fried Chicken (68111)

July 12
Stuffed Eggplant Papoutsakia (68134) vs. Barbacoa Short Ribs (68106)
WINNER: Barbacoa Short Ribs (68106)

July 13
Negi Hamachi Roll (68164) vs. The Mia (68118)
WINNER: Negi Hamachi Roll (68164)

July 15
Pan-Seared Salmon (68046) vs. Pizza Rosso (68122)
WINNER: Pizza Rosso (68122)

July 16
Beef Bulgogi (68127) vs. Diavolo (68131)
WINNER: Diavolo (68131)

July 17
Thai Salmon Salad (68154) vs. Omakase (68005)
WINNER: Omakase (68005)

July 18
Wings with Habanero Sauce (68007) vs. Chicken Tikka Madras (68144)
WINNER: Chicken Tikka Madras (68144)

July 19
Classic Gyro (68130) vs. Flaming Saganaki (68105)
WINNER: Flaming Saganaki (68105)

July 20
Tonkotsu Ramen (68104) vs. Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124)
WINNER: Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124)

July 23
Croque Garcon Burger (68102) vs. Menudo (68107)
WINNER: Croque Garcon Burger (68102)

July 24
Tacos (51510) vs. Fried Ice Cream (68069)
WINNER: Fried Ice Cream (68069)

July 25
Pop Tarts (68135) vs. Country Sunrise (68137)
WINNER: Country Sunrise (68137)

July 26
Prime Rib (51526) vs. Egg Yolk Raviolo (68108)
WINNER: Prime Rib (51526)

July 27
Lust (68123) vs. Vermicelli Rice Noodles (68136)
WINNER: Vermicelli Rice Noodles (68136)

Sweet Sixteen

July 31
Azteca Burrito Supreme (68138) vs Bolognese Bianco (68132)
WINNER: Bolognese Bianco (68132)

August 1
Oven-Fried Chicken (68111) vs. Barbacoa Short Ribs (68106)
WINNER: Oven-Fried Chicken (68111)

August 2
Negi Hamachi Roll (68164) vs. Pizza Rosso (68122)
WINNER: Pizza Rosso (68122)

August 3
Beef Bulgogi (68127) vs. Omakase (68005)
WINNER: Beef Bulgogi (68127)

August 7
Chicken Tikka Madras (68144) vs. Flaming Saganaki (68105)
WINNER: Chicken Tikka Madras (68144)

August 8
Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124) vs. Croque Garcon Burger (68102)
WINNER: Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124)

August 9
Fried Ice Cream (68069) vs. Country Sunrise (68137)
WINNER: Country Sunrise (68137)

August 10
Prime Rib (51526) vs. Vermicelli Rice Noodle Bowl (68136)
WINNER: Prime Rib (51526)

Elite Eight

August 14
Bolognese Bianco (68132) vs. Oven-Fried Chicken (68111)
WINNER: Bolognese Bianco (68132)

August 15
Pizza Rosso (68122) vs. Beef Bulgogi (68127)
WINNER: Pizza Rosso (68122)

August 16
Chicken Tikka Madras (68144) vs. Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124)
WINNER: Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124)

August 17
Prime Rib (51526) vs. Country Sunrise (68137)
WINNER: Prime Rib (51526)

Final Four

August 20
Bolognese Bianco (68132) vs. Pizza Rosso (68122)
WINNER: Pizza Rosso (68122)

August 21
Whiskey Steak Sirloin (68124) vs. Prime Rib (51526)
WINNER: Prime Rib (51526)

2018 Munch Madness Championship

August 24
Prime Rib (51526) vs. Pizza Rosso (68122)
WINNER: Prime Rib (51526)

Patricia “Big Mama” Barron

February 17, 2017 by
Photography by Ani Luxe Photography

This sponsored content appears in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/b2b_0217_125/56

After graduating from the School of Culinary Arts at Metro Community College in 1973, Patricia Barron worked in the corporate world. She retired from Qwest 30 years later.

Did she head for the beach? No. At age 65, she continued working, fulfilling her lifelong dream of opening her own restaurant.

“You’re never too old to pursue your dreams,” she says, “I’m going to work until I’m 100 years old.

In December 2007, she opened the restaurant she had dreamt about.  The menu is as deliciously rich and full of history as its owner who says:  “We prepare food the way my mother and grandmother did, made from scratch with a little soul and lots of love.”

And the owner keeps going, not letting age slow her down.

The restaurant’s nationally known cuisine, service and down home atmosphere keep customers coming back.

Big Mama’s is headed for a new location next year.  Combining her restaurant and sandwich shop in the 75 North Revitalization Project, a development of homes, apartments, and condos.  The menu at the new location will feature many of the foods she has become famous for along with a few new items which Big Mama is excited to introduce to her customers.