At Yo’ Mama’s, Denise Peterson and her daughters have perfected the chicken and waffles recipe.
Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne
Photo by Beau Gustafson
In our house, there was a phrase we reserved for only the best food: “Mmm. That’s slap-yo’-mama good.” People walk out of Yo’ Mama’s, located downtown, licking their fingers and murmuring that very thing after feasting on chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, or hot wings. Denise Peterson, the mama behind all the “mmm”ing, says that it’s always been her dream to open a restaurant. When she retired after 30 years with Bellsouth/AT&T, she decided to take the plunge. And Birmingham is happier for it. “The most challenging part is keeping up with the demand of the amount of customers we serve daily,” Peterson says. “God has truly blessed us with many amazing customers and we want to make sure we keep as many of them happy as possible. One thing we hear a lot, which I guess is a good problem, is that we need more seating room! That’s great to hear, especially as a new business. And it’s something we’ve definitely been thinking about.”
Peterson opened the restaurant in November of 2014 alongside her daughters, Delisha and Crystal. Delisha, who owns Burnt Orange design, handles the technology and design aspects of the restaurant, while Crystal is the general and marketing manager. Peterson oversees all of the recipes and cooking. “All of the recipes are done by me, but I have an amazing kitchen staff who understand the quality of food we want to serve and they work hard every day to serve the best dishes as consistently as possible,” Peterson says. “Most of the meals I’ve made are things I’ve been cooking for years, meals that my family grew up on. Our family has always traveled a lot and we love trying new food, so some of the other dishes come from places we traveled and foods we tried from all over the country.”
That’s a truth her daughters can attest to; Crystal says her mom cooked breakfast and dinner for them five days a week, even though she was working full time. “Some of the meals are planned, while others are just spur of the moment. To me it’s like a lightening bolt strikes while she’s at the store and then she says, ‘We’re having salmon with a red pepper corn salsa,’” Crystal says. “The best part is our menu has been tested for more than 30 years, because all of the meals on the menu and meals of the day are household and family/friend favorites as well.” Peterson says that their most popular dish by far is their chicken and waffles, which is served daily. “My day starts at around 6 a.m. That’s about when I start going through the checklist of to-dos in my head. Usually making sure we have enough waffle mix and chicken. That seems to be what everyone wants,” she says.
The trio is experiencing a lot of growth and having fun doing it, they say. “It is amazing how effective social media and word of mouth has been for our business,” Crystal says. “We have only been open for five months and we have ‘regular’ customers, and every day I get introduced to several newbies who turn into ‘regulars.’” Indeed, if you search the Yo’ Mama’s location on Instagram, you’ll see dozens of photos of people enjoying brunch or lunch at the restaurant (and lots of photos of chicken and waffles). “We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback,” Peterson says. “I’ve started looking into the social media accounts. I’ve never been to Facebook, Instagram, or any of those types of sites until recently. It’s interesting to see their funny comments and photos. Some of them have some great pictures of the food! That’s a little more reason to make sure the food is plated well. We have great customers and their word of mouth has really helped the restaurant grow quickly.”
Yo’ Mama’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday–Friday and is located on Second Avenue North (you can also visit their website, yomamasrestaurant.com, for info on their catering services.) You definitely won’t regret a visit to Yo’ Mama’s—Peterson will make sure of that. “I love hearing the stories and seeing people enjoy their meals. I always strive for excellence in the restaurant in every way, but especially with the quality of our food. We want everyone to leave here satisfied and happy with their experience,” she says. “We know we’ve done our job when we get positive feedback, see great pictures and comments on social media, and even get a hug from a happy customer every once in a while.” It’s just as good as the slap-yo’-mama food your own mama made. In fact, it may be better (but don’t tell your mama I said that.)