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Since 2007, Big Mama's Kitchen has been serving soul food and helping ex-felons get back on track. Patricia Barron, a lifelong North Omaha resident, started the restaurant at 65-years-old, drawing on the recipes she had learned from her mother, aunts and other relatives. Family is the key theme of Big Mama's. Inside the original restaurant visitors will see dozens of photographs from Barron's own family's history as well as the history as photos that depict the history of North Omaha. Since she opened for business, Barron has estimated hiring more than 200 ex-offenders and also has become involved with many outreach program's to help at-risk youth. Big Mama's has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Travel Channel and on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

An image from promoting his visit to Big Mama's on his TV show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

An image from promoting his visit to Big Mama's on his TV show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

Patricia Givens Barron has lived in North Omaha for entire life. Her family, like many others, moved to the midwest as part of the Great Migration.1 Barron, the daughter of the popular Omaha area orchestra leader Basie Givens, opened her restaurant at 65-years-old under the pseudonym “Big Mama” in 2007 after years of catering as side work to her telecommunications job.2

Before Barron could open her restaurant, she needed to find the money. Which was a difficult task for an elderly Black women. The year her restaurant started women-owned businesses received 64 percent less starting capital than male-owned businesses.3 As a Black woman from North O, Barron also had to deal with the stereotypes around the area she was opening her business in. North Omaha is “the most forgotten, shunned, and red circle area in the city. It’s like we’re the step children,” Barron said in a radio interview on Feb. 16.4

Once Barron’s restaurant opened, success quickly followed. Now, Big Mama’s Kitchen in has two missions; serve comfortable, tradition African-American dishes and helping those who have been on the wrong side of the law get a second chance.2 The latter of the two interests is newer. She became interested in working with ex-felons after two of her daughters, who were raised in the family’s Christian household went to jail. “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 told the Omaha Magazine in 2014.2

The process of hiring ex-offenders started in the family. Barron hired granddaughter Diondria Harrison after she got out of jail. Harrison is now the lead cook at Big Mama’s. Barron has also been involved in helping inmates outside of her home-decorated restaurant walls. She has worked with Crossroads Connection, which provides ministry outreach to people who have been incarcerated. She even tried to get the Nebraska State Senate to pass a bill that eliminated the felony box on job applications, but the bill did not pass.2

The family aspect of Big Mama’s is very important, its website says “it is our heart’s desire to provide each of our customers with fresh, great-tasting food, exceptional service, and the special feeling of enjoying a home-cooked meal in the kitchen of their own favorite ‘Big Mama.’”5 The inside of Big Mama’s is designed to look a family dining room. Each table has a tablecloth and chairs that look like they would be found at an average family's’ kitchen table.6 On the walls, there are pictures of Barron’s father and his band, other family members and friends and pictures that show the history of North Omaha, much like the way a home would be decorated.6

Some of the ex-felons hired at Big Mama’s Kitchen stay, others move on to other jobs, but Barron said all of the work she does for them makes her feel like she’s fulfilling her purpose. As of 2014, Barron had estimated she’s hired 200 ex-offenders looking for work and a new beginning.2

1. "Patricia "Big Mama" Barron." Omeka RSS. History Harvest, 2011. Web. 01 May 2016. 2. Biga, Leo A. "Big Mama, Bigger Heart." Omaha Magazine. Omaha Magazine, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. 3. Kraus, Hilary Stohs. "Owning It: For Nebraska Women Entrepreneurs, Unique Investment Challenges." NET Nebraska, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 2 May 2016. 4. "Reinvesting in North Omaha: An Infusion of Wealth." KVNO News. KVNO News, 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 May 2016. 5. "Our Story Big Mama's Kitchen." Big Mamas Kitchen Our Story Comments. Big Mama's Kitchen, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. 6. "Big Mama's Kitchen And Catering -." Omaha Forums. E-Omaha Forums, 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.