From a frame on the wall of Sweet Mama T’s restaurant in El Dorado, a stately young graduate looks out over the dining room.
The woman in the picture is Mama, restaurateur La’Twana Scott says, but not Sweet Mama T.
The restaurant’s namesake is Scott herself. “Everybody calls me ‘Twana,’ and I pour my soul into being a mom,” she says. “I’ve also been told by a bunch of people that I’m sweet.”
The picture, she explains, is of Lou Ann Scott, La’Twana’s mother and inspiration.
“I always wanted to go to a restaurant and eat like it was your mom’s house,” Scott said, crediting her mother for immersing her in cooking, stirring a passion that has blossomed into a career.
Unfortunately, Lou Ann Scott didn’t live to see it; she died at age 64 two years ago.
“I was missing that homey experience, and I thought our town was missing that, too,” Scott said last Monday, surrounded by tables stacked with upturned chairs. “Old-fashioned caramel cake? I got you. Good old turnip greens? I got you.”
After years of cooking for friends, relatives, church potlucks and catered events, including spreads for El Dorado corporate fixtures like Murphy USA, Scott started her own place in January. Three days after opening, she had a line out the door.
“I wish my mom had seen it,” said Scott, a proud native of El Dorado’s south side. “She cooked in big plantation-style pots and was a great cook. She just threw me in there when I was 11 years old, in the fifth grade. I had gotten a Berenstain Bears cookbook, and I was amazed that you could put this and this together and make something that tastes great. I have a strong palate and can taste something and tell you what the ingredients are.”
A former 911 dispatcher and school bus driver, Scott says that she was “stepping out on faith,” believing in her cooking and her business skills. She also relies on family, with a brother and aunt helping her in daily operations.
“I wanted a restaurant, but it was a mere dream. But I thought this town was ready, and once I had a business plan I figured I was ready.” Using her home as collateral, Scott got a loan from Southern Bancorp.
A single mom of girls now 27 and 12, Scott says she didn’t go into business to get rich. “I just wanted to replace my salary, and I have, but thank God that I can budget to a T. You have to know how to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”
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El Dorado, Arkansas’ first oil boomtown and home to about 20,000, has a big new draw in the Murphy Arts District, or MAD, which opened downtown in October. The $100 million project includes restaurants, art galleries, theater and cabaret, a 2,400-capacity indoor music hall and an outdoor amphitheater that can accommodate 8,000. Scott figured that concert and event crowds could supplement her regular lunch bunch. “Sometimes we will extend our hours for big events like the MAD music festival. We also did that on the Fourth of July.”
Refining the restaurant’s hours took a while. Scott served breakfast and lunch in the beginning, but felt overworked. Now she focuses on weekday lunches and Sunday soul food feasts. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11-7 on Friday and 11-4 on Sundays.
“I’ve found traffic to be great in the middle of the day,” Scott said. “Beyond the usual workers wanting lunch, crews staying in local hotels are looking for a good place to eat, and the MAD district is bringing in people. On Sundays, it’s a family thing, with a church group taking up one table.” Friends from St. John Missionary Baptist, Scott’s church, are regulars.
Blue plate specials at $8.99 are available through the week, and different days offer chicken spaghetti, fried chicken and pork roast. Burgers and wings are popular, and Sunday fare includes soul food favorites like chitterlings and pigs’ feet, as well as another Scott specialty, dressing — the kind you have at Thanksgiving.
“I do the cooking and the ordering from distributors, and I make regular runs for supplies to Sam’s Club in Shreveport or Monroe,” she said. “My loan officer saw that I had a business plan and a passion for cooking, so I was able to buy the front part of this building” at 615 E. Hillsboro St. “Now six or seven months in, I may be looking at buying the rest of the building so that I can expand.”
She thinks Mama would approve.
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