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Soul Food in the City: Bronzeville’s Mama Lou’s

Mama Lou's restaurant. Photo by Victoria Street.
Mama Lou’s restaurant. Photo by Victoria Street.

Mama Lou’s Comfort Kitchen, located in Chicago’s “Black Metropolis” known as Bronzeville, is in its fifth year of serving soul food with quality service.

Theodore Boone, who works at Mama’s Lou’s, has been there since his daughter and her husband founded the restaurant.

The couple did two years of research and made the decision to open their restaurant in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood.

“When we started off, we didn’t begin this as a get-rich scheme. We just wanted to have a place where we could make a living and teach our young folks how to be independent,” said Boone.

For authenticity, there is a real grandma or “Mama.” The restaurant was opened to pay homage to the family’s grandma while using her recipes.

When the business first opened, the grandmother, known by her family as Mama Lou, was dressed up and worked at the front door as a greeter, Boone said. “But shortly after we opened up she took sick, so she wasn’t able to continue that,” he added.

Though she is recovering, Mama Lou remains proud and supports what the family is doing in her name.

“Originally we wanted to open up a really nice white table-cloth sit-down restaurant,” said Boone.

Due to the lack of resources, the comfort kitchen changed its original theme. Upon entry, customers find a simpler restaurant style: over-the-counter, served as a buffet-like experience.

Although most customers don’t dine in, they have the choice of enjoying their meal and scenery while dining in the six-seater restaurant.

“Our plan is to have people enjoy a really nice meal in a comfortable atmosphere and not have to go to someone else’s neighborhood to do that in,” said Boone.

The staff at the Comfort Kitchen is a family affair. Nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews all work in the restaurant.

Boone’s nephew, Julian Morrison, or the “MVP” as they call him in the kitchen, has been cooking at Mama Lou’s for four years.

The secret to being the MVP is “just follow the recipe,” said Morrison.

Mama Lou’s Comfort Kitchen is surrounded by fast food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Popeyes.

Regular customer Ariane McMahon said she loves the homey feeling at Mama Lou’s.

“If I had every chance, and all the money, I would definitely come here,” said McMahon.

First-time customer Donald Turner said he came to the restaurant because he was in search of a new soul food place. He said the one he previously went to on Stony Island Avenue went out of business.

“I walked by and I said ‘Black people own this, so I’m going to check it out,’” said Turner.

Boone said he is a strong supporter of family- and black-owned businesses.

While completing orders, Boone occasionally asks customers questions such as:

“What’s more of a legacy to black people? To own 200 white restaurants or 100 Magic Johnson restaurants?” said Boone.

A Lauryn Hill song was playing in the restaurant on a recent day. Styrofoam containers are filled with brightly colored diced yams, and customers can count on being enlightened, inspired and satisfied.

There’s an unspoken form of respect in the Comfort Kitchen. Employees are related, which creates a warmer, more authentic environment. The genuine relationships with customers ensures loyalty and many return visits to the restaurant.

The door opens and chimes tickle  the front glass. From behind the counter, Boone said, “Hey lil’ brother, what can I get you?”


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