A Restart, in Part, at Your Mama's Good Food

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 12:00 am  

John Gray, left,  and Steve Maxwell , new owners of Your Mama’s Good Food in Little Rock, are  working to learn and then grow business at the  home cooking restaurant.  (Photo by Kate Knable)

Your Mama’s Good Food in Little Rock still serves Southern home cooking by way of a cafeteria line and hot rolls as big as coffee mugs.

A wall of the restaurant holds framed awards won over the past 22 years. And Your Mama’s is still a family business, as it was when Fleming Stockton opened it in 1990.

But a year after taking over, the restaurant’s new owners are pushing to overcome a learning curve. Food sales from December 2011 through November 2012 — which were the restaurant’s first full 12 months under new owners — were down roughly 16 percent from the same period two years prior, during Stockton’s final full year of ownership.

Steve and Teresa Maxwell and John Gray bought the Your Mama’s name, recipes, kitchen equipment, tables, chairs and decor in October 2011. Steve Maxwell declined to share the purchase price.

Gray, who is Teresa Maxwell’s brother, has worked in the restaurant business for about 30 years. The siblings are from Baton Rouge, La., and Steve Maxwell is from Ferriday, La. The Maxwells moved to Arkansas in 1991.

The trio reopened Your Mama’s on Nov. 23, 2011, at 215 Center St., three months after the restaurant closed for the ownership transition. Gray is the cook and operating partner.

The new location and the three months’ delay in opening the restaurant were among the setbacks the new owners encountered in year one. The three months were not only a period without selling food, but also caused many people to think the restaurant closed permanently, Steve Maxwell said.

Maxwell said he wanted to stay where the restaurant’s customer base knew where to find it. However, he couldn’t reach an agreement with the landlord of the Your Mama’s location of seven years in the Tower Building, 220 W. Fourth St.

The Maxwells ended up buying, condo-style, the current location. Owning the space allows the Maxwells more control of their costs long term but required them to sink money in a facility and renovations up front, Maxwell said.

The Maxwells, under TSM Properties LLC, bought the 3,400-SF space in the Pyramid Place building for $510,000. They spent about $300,000 to convert former offices into a kitchen and dining areas and $100,000 to buy kitchen equipment.

Also, during the first few months in business, the Maxwell-Gray team lost experienced Your Mama’s staffers. Restaurant staff turnover is traditionally high, but Your Mama’s lost decades of experience when the Stocktons sold it. Fleming Stockton and his wife, Barbara, had served as the restaurant’s institutional memory, and Fleming was the primary cook for nearly 20 years.

Fleming Stockton’s control of the kitchen resulted in consistency in food production that Gray, who now does much of the cooking, hasn’t learned yet, though he said he’s sticking with Stockton’s expensive and prep intensive made-from-scratch approach.

Quality ingredients and low prices were his strategy, Fleming Stockton said. “We never made a lot of money because we didn’t charge a lot,” he said. However, downtown Little Rock has seen multiple home-cooking joints come and go over time, while Your Mama’s has survived, he said.

Customers let Gray know when the food doesn’t taste the way Stockton made it, Gray said.

Recipes that call for a handful of a spice turn out differently with a hand that’s not Stockton’s, Gray said. “If it’s cayenne pepper, it is a big deal,” he said. “I feel like we’ve had to start over, with the advantages of an existing business. Much of it is starting new.”

Your Mama’s Food Sales

215 Center St.220 W. Fourth St.
Dec. 2011-Nov. 2012 $290,528  
Dec. 2010-Nov. 2011*   $245,899
Dec. 2009-Nov. 2010   $345,460
Dec. 2009-Nov. 2010   $345,460

*Closed Aug. 26 - Nov. 22, 2011
Source: Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

The new location is nearly twice as big as the previous spot, and the Maxwells and Gray hope to grow the restaurant in it.

As part of trying to grow, Gray is testing new menu items and wants to experiment with some made-to-order options.

In addition, Gray launched after-hours ordering for take-out food in December. Online ordering should begin in 2013. Both began later than planned. “We may have been ambitious about what we wanted to achieve at opening,” Maxwell said.

 

 

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