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BUSINESS MONDAY: Spotlight on Momma Lo’s Southern Style BBQ

A new arrival on the restaurant scene in Great Barrington already has lines out the door.

Great Barrington – If you happened to motor through Craryville during the past two and a half years, you may have glimpsed plumes of smoke rising like Mohican signals into the skies above Random Harvest and Zinnia’s Dinette, formerly The Dutch Treat. Driving closer, you may then have been drawn to the pothole-pitted parking lot and a few makeshift tents, where eponymous proprietress Loretta “Momma Lo” McClennan and her sons “T” and “Buddha” (Attarilm and Ahmed) were gamely preparing feasts of Tennessee-infused barbecue.

One such passerby was Richard Stanley, impresario of the Triplex Cinema and other businesses in Great Barrington, who stopped there on his way to a golfing expedition. Upon sampling the maximally authentic wares of this roadside pop-up, and fully cognizant of South County’s utter dearth of BBQ options, Stanley exclaimed to Momma Lo that she and her sons ought to be in Great Barrington, offering their artful, hand-crafted food to a wider population, and from more commodious digs. Stanley told The Edge that besides appreciating the quality of the food, he was motivated by a desire to make Great Barrington more inclusive. “I want to create business opportunities here for all kinds of entrepreneurs.”

Flash-forward a year or two, and here they are in the Triplex plaza, standing resplendent in their cheerfully appointed new storefront, formerly home to STEAM, a pan-Asian noodle bar, which moved into the former Tangier site on Main Street.

Momma Lo cooking ribs. Photo by E.M. Marcus

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Momma Lo has been working her whole life to reach this point: a roof on her business, meat-smokers in the yard, and customers lining up with eager bellies.

After leaving behind an abusive relationship in Atlanta, she moved with her sons up to Millerton in 1999 and was living in the Grace Smith House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. “I told the kids, ‘When we get out, we’re going to try to make a difference, to help those who helped us and those who can’t help themselves.'”

In addition to her deeply held religious faith, Momma Lo’s lifelong experience as a cook would play a central role in this mission: “My Mom had a shop in Tennessee, and I was working in a restaurant at the age of ten, so… I have always cooked. I was working for Big G Burger Shack, making hamburgers and fries and frying chicken. Then when I was 16, I went to cooking school.”

Momma Lo's son "T"
Momma Lo’s son “T”. Photo by E.M. Marcus

On whether barbecue had always been a particular favorite, Momma Lo shakes her head no. “It’s my passion for cooking, period. I just love to cook any kind of dish.” That passion is palpable, and her message crystal clear: “Everything is made from scratch. When you do it with boxes and cans, it’s not the same. You can’t get the consistency and the flavor.”

She and her sons embarked on their cooking quest by making ad hoc BBQ for private parties and local events, such as Millerton’s Spring for Sound, where musicians convened in convivial country surroundings.

“We did the back-to-school jam for four years, then Spring for Sound came about, and we did that for three years before they closed it down.” Despite the uncertainty of those times, Momma Lo’s love of, and dedication to, her craft eventually led to new horizons. She recalls sitting around in Craryville with her neighbors Dane and Cathy, telling them about what she wanted to do with BBQ, when Dane said, “You know what, we need to make your dream come true,” and proceeded to buy her two grills. Now they just needed a location — Lo had been talking to the owner of Dutch Treat for almost a year about setting up shop in the parking lot. She finally came around and Momma Lo’s Southern-Style BBQ was born, “and so for the last two and a half years we’ve been out there on the side of the road.”

Chicken on the grill at Momma Lo's
Chicken on the grill at Momma Lo’s. Photo by E.M. Marcus

Lo’s son Buddha, head of marketing and social media for the family operation, reflects on the difficulty of those early times and the relative ease of their recent transition: “Our biggest challenge was when we were trying to get started and nobody wanted to give us a chance. But then as soon as we opened in Craryville, it just took off.”

The business strategy is elemental: “First, Momma Lo cooks really good food, so that makes my job easy. Her food is its own marketing. It was just the food, and the smell, and the word of mouth. We have never paid for an ad,” Buddha says, adding that he posts behind-the-scene images on social media to let people see what’s happening. “Because if you can see it, you can feel it, you know? And people tend to latch on to it because it’s real. The story’s real, we were really on the side of the road, we really met Richard Stanley, who really said y’all should be in Great Barrington after he tried the food, and we’re really here now.”

Momma Lo's brisket
Momma Lo’s brisket, all cooked and ready to serve. Photo by E.M. Marcus

Momma Lo is already benefitting from the new infrastructure. The new storefront allows them to expand their business hours and seasons of operation. Unlike in Claryville, where they were beholden to the weather, they can prepare all the food on-site instead of somewhere else and be open five or seven days a week as opposed to two days. Plus, with indoor and outdoor seating, the prospect of year-round BBQ sans frostbite could be a game-changing addition to South County’s epicurean roster.

“I’m pleased with the space because it gives me a whole new perspective. Because it’s something I always wanted to do, and it took me… what? Most of our lives” Laughter erupts as Buddha chimes in: “That’s because she put our lives first as our mom, so it’s cool. Everything happens in time, right?”

Speaking of time, cooking authentic barbecue cannot be rushed. Buddha jokes that they may have to start cooking at midnight, so everything is ready when the doors open. “Good things take time! But you can quote me on this, someone said we’re faster than McDonald’s with the service. Fresh and fast.”

Momma Lo and staff member Melissa Wilxon
Momma Lo and staff member Melissa Wilson ready to serve you. Photo by E.M. Marcus

This mother-and-sons team is excited for the future and keen to meet anyone who appreciates authentic southern barbeque. “For the ones that don’t know, just come out and give it a try, you won’t be disappointed,” Momma Lo beams. “It’s like having a home-cooked meal from your momma, that’s why we call it Momma Lo’s!” exclaims Buddha, brimming with pride.

He continues, brandishing a cheeky grin, “I want to see if it’s really as crazy here in the summer as they say.  And I want to see if they’re ready for Momma Lo’s. Oh, and I want you to put this in there…,” pivoting deftly to a hip-hop composition (his parallel career, in which he is known as Buddha da Great: www.facebook.com/iambuddhadagreat):

“Welcome to Momma Lo’s, good barbecue for the low.
We got two smokers, that’s Frazier and Smokin’ Joe.
The food’s so good you can smell it in Poconos.
Come down and get you a rib plate, tell ‘em I told you so.
We got baked beans, mac and cheese and soda on the side.
Once it hits your taste buds, you know that you alive.
Yeah, you know that it’s a vibe, every time that you arrive.
We stay switchin’ up the menu, just to keep you guys surprised.



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