You just can’t beat “Mama’s cooking,” Crystal Peterson said as she sat at a table in the freshly opened Yo Mama’s on Second Avenue North.
The restaurant is the culmination of a mother’s lifelong passion for cooking and a daughter’s ambition to provide a vibrant lunch spot downtown.
“I graduated from UAB with a degree in marketing in April,” Peterson said. “My mom had always dreamed of opening a restaurant, so I told her we just need to go for it.”
Peterson is hesitant to categorize the food at Yo Mama’s as “soul food.” She said the cuisine has a little bit of something from everywhere they have been in life.
“It’s a combination of everywhere we’ve been. We’ve been to New Orleans, we’ve been to California, we’re from here, so the food is just a reflection of that,” Peterson said.
But with dishes like chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits, it’s hard to escape the restaurant’s Southern roots altogether.
Peterson said that she told her mom, Denise Peterson, “As long as you make the food good, I can make the people happy.” She says that shouldn’t be too hard once people taste the food.
Peterson said her mom has been catering as long as she can remember, but this is the first restaurant she’s opened.
The wood-paneled bar is highlighted by a bright green interior. Peterson said she wanted the place to look fresh. The décor makes the restaurant seem like a miniature farmers market.
“I guess you could say our thing is just meals made fresh,” Peterson said. “These are all Mama’s recipes, and she makes everything in house from scratch.”
She said that she wants to establish a local eatery that is supplied by local produce and meats. “We want to build the city or state within itself. We want to only do business within the state,” Peterson said.
On why she chose the Second Ave. location, Peterson said, “It’s downtown, people are always looking for food down here, so it’s easy to pick up a lot of foot traffic.”
Yo Mama’s is only open for lunch, because “Mom doesn’t want to be here all night,” Peterson explained.
Peterson said that after graduating college, she didn’t know she would be opening a restaurant a few months later. “I’m just big on family. I’m just down for anything my mom wants to do. If she didn’t have any plans to open a restaurant, I really don’t know where I’d be. I might be in Australia for all I know,” Peterson said.
Two weeks after opening, Peterson said that business has been picking up. “Every day we have new customers, and about 20 percent of our customers have been repeats,” Peterson said.
As more restaurants start to open downtown, Peterson hopes her clientele will recognize their passion for fresh, local ingredients.
“That’s really what it’s all about,” she said. “I want this to be a chain. This food is just good, and it’s a great atmosphere. You can put that in any city. But the only way we could do that is if the food is always fresh.”