Like her mother Patricia “Big Mama” Barron, Gladys Harrison is a bold dreamer with a strong work ethic and unparalleled business savvy. The restaurant owner and operator fondly shared memories of the early days of her Mom’s first catering business, “In addition to cleaning up and serving food, I clearly remember washing out piping bags – my mother was a masterful cake decorator.”
According to her daughter, Barron was a passionate go-getter. “She had a bucket list and did nearly every single thing on it.” From a missionary trip to Africa in her late 50s to opening a restaurant at the tender age of 65, her zest for life proved infectious to all who were fortunate to know her.
Grandmother Lillie viewed cooking as a loving gift to her family and friends, laying out spreads of scratch-made delights on bursting tables at holidays and occasions. “As far as the eye could see there was food,” Harrison reminisced. “A beautiful spirit of happiness and family togetherness was present at every meal.”
Growing up eating that incredible soul food led Harrison to believe everybody’s mom knew how to make donuts, biscuits, and head cheese from scratch, but the more she ventured outside her world, the more she realized that simply wasn’t true.
The relatively new location of Big Mama’s in the Highlander Accelerator building is ideal for the family business because it’s smack in the middle of the community Harrison knows and loves. Relocating just before the pandemic shut down brought challenges, as did the glaring light that shone on strained community relationships when the tragedy of George Floyd inspired many to stand up for what they believed.
During tumultuous times, the team dove in to help families in the community in myriad ways – developing a line of affordable take and bake meals, cooking meals for the fine young men and
their families of North Star, and hiring those for whom second chances mean everything.
Harrison credited the Omaha Small Business Network for providing invaluable advice and support but ultimately finds the establishment’s lifelong partners are the customers who eat the lovingly prepared food. “No business makes it by themselves, and no person achieves dreams alone.”
Seeing the joy on customer’s faces, hearing how great the food is, and leaving a legacy are just a few of the things that keep Harrison inspired to come to work every day. She is especially proud of being able to leave an entrepreneurial legacy to her grandson Braden in a community where opportunities to do so have been historically slim.
Learning and innovation are keys to a sharp mind and Harrison is constantly striving to grow and learn by finding ways that new technology can save time and money or bring new products to market. The savvy businesswoman is excited to announce the spectacular oven-fried chicken seasoning, based on Grandma Lillie’s recipe, will be available in local stores and on Amazon soon.
“You do the best work of your life at age 60 or older,” claimed Harrison (who’s not yet reached that milestone). “My mother taught me about what makes good food good – it’s not just the food, it’s the whole experience. Her main priority was giving people great food and making them feel like they were eating a meal in her own kitchen.”