Omaha restaurateur Patricia “Big Mama” Barron, who fed thousands delicious soul food meals and gained notoriety on national television after starting Big Mama’s Kitchen in 2007, died Friday evening. She was 76.
Barron’s goal was never to be rich or famous, family and friends said. She started the restaurant a decade ago, long after retiring from a career in telecommunications in Omaha.
Instead, she started the restaurant near 45th and Bedford Streets in the old Nebraska School for the Deaf cafeteria because she wanted as many people as possible to enjoy the food she cooked, and she wanted to help north Omaha to once again become the vibrant community she remembered from her youth.
“My mom didn’t just want to own a restaurant. … She wanted a place where everybody in the city could come and get together,” said one of her daughters, Gladys Harrison, the restaurant’s general manager.
”She wanted her restaurant to be a place where (people) could get a second chance at working and being productive citizens,” Harrison said. “And she wanted to help bring some life back to north Omaha.”
The restaurant’s reputation spread nationally. It was featured multiple times over the years on the Food Network and the Travel Channel.
A pilot was even shot for a reality show for the Food Network, but it never got picked up because, “we didn’t give them enough drama,” Harrison said.
Jim Trebbien, former dean of the Metro Institute for Culinary Arts, said Barron told him: “Every family has their troubles but I’m not going to air mine nationally.”
Barron was born Patricia Givens at her family home at 24th and Indiana Streets on Feb. 4, 1942, and grew up in Omaha.
Her own story was one of triumph over adversity at times.
When Barron was a child in the 1950s, her family took road trips from Omaha deep into the South.
It was difficult to stop and eat on the way — many restaurants then didn’t allow black customers — so they planned ahead.
“Before we left, my mother would fry up lots of chicken,” Barron told The World-Herald in 2013. “We’d take that chicken and put it on bread and put some mayonnaise and some onion sauce on it and eat that while we rode in the car.”
She graduated from Central High in 1960 and served in the Navy as a clerk for four years before returning to Omaha.
An aspiring cook, she took a job at Northwestern Bell as a key punch operator and studied in the culinary arts program at Metropolitan Technical Community College, but her career in the kitchen took a back seat as she got promoted at the phone company. She rose to become an upper-level manager with U.S. West Communications.
Barron’s restaurant and success was a bright spot in an area that has struggled to keep eateries.
At Big Mama’s Kitchen, she drew her children and grandchildren into the business: Oldest granddaughter Diondria Harrison preps all the food. Daughter Delena Givens-Brown does the canning, so she makes all the jams, jellies, apple butter and salsa.
“There’s three generations of Big Mama’s family working at the restaurant. And she did an awesome job of preparing us to do what she did to take Big Mama 10, 20, 30 more years in the future.”
Big Mama’s will soon move its country charm to the Highlander Accelerator Building, part of the Seventy-Five North Development at 30th and Parker Streets.
“She was real and genuine,” Harrison said. “We live in a society that is so fake and phony; my mom was so real and genuine. She was compassionate and caring she had a real love for the community and for other people. … She drew the good out of you.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to the Metropolitan Community College Foundation to benefit the Patricia “Big Mama” Barron Culinary Scholarship. Please indicate the scholarship name in the check memo line. Memorial contributions can also be given online at:https://webapps.mccneb.edu/waystogive/Give/ indicate the scholarship name in the donation is in honor of section.