Restaurant Revisited: Mama Lee’s

by in Shows, May 2nd, 2012

Mama Lee'sWhen Robert Irvine and his Restaurant: Impossible team visited Mama Lee’s soul food restaurant in San Antonio, it had never turned a profit and was just weeks away from closing down. A few months after Robert’s major revamp — he even called in reinforcements from HGTV’s Kitchen Cousins — we caught up with Ken, the owner, to see how business is going.

Four months later, Mama Lee’s is closer to turning a profit. Sales are up 15 percent and Ken is seeing many new customers in addition to his old regulars. With the increase in sales, he is slowly catching up on overdue bills.

Ken still feels reinvigorated as a leader. “We’re holding staff meetings every other Sunday,” he told us, in order to address service issues and discuss customer feedback. “I’m re-energized.”

The restaurant is now a source of pride for Ken and his crew. They are cleaning the new kitchen daily, and the vents are cleaned once a week. Weekly visits from the exterminator have eliminated the roach problem. “The guys are taking pride in the restaurant, and that is reflected in our actions.”

The new decor is a big hit with customers, who talk most about the frying-pan flowers on the walls. Ken’s favorite part is the new bar. He has applied for a liquor license, which he expects will help boost sales even higher.

More from Restaurant Revisited:

Valley View (March 14)

Pelican Grill (April 25)

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Comments (1,095)

  1. Art Hansen says:

    I'm EXHAUSTED at the end of each show, but that shows me the effort and energy that goes into these refacings. I have done quite a few restaurants, and it's not an easy business. The emotions of those you work with are very much a part of the process. Really like the variety of re-purposed materials that are used! Great work!

  2. guest says:

    Just watched the ep, I'd actually be willing to try real soul food from a place such as mama lees, why?, because food is love and when people have love and pride in what they do prices don't matter it's the food, and food made from the heart is by far the best kind of eating

    God bless you ken for your service to Our great nation and God bless that wonderful mom of yours

  3. Trudi says:

    it is great so know that many Restaurant owner habe been helped with their facilities. But that does not make make them good business people and most of them need that very much.. Cooking comes next and then the Restaurant. But it seems that many put the wagon in front of the Horse and are surprised if their business is goning down hill. A Business course should be manditory for most of those so called Restaurateurs. But that is just my humble imput.

  4. Insider says:

    Ken probably has space for them at his house because I am sure it is just as dirty as the restaurant was. He scammed RI to have them come fix up his dunp.

    • Becca says:

      Insider, you need to grow up and learn respect. You don’t know anything about this man. You are speaking about things you can’t back up!!! Before you start talking about someone you need facts, that’s a mans reputation you are slandering! Stop pointing out his flaws, fact or fiction, and go take care if you’re own!!! you are ridicules!!!!!

  5. Trish says:

    The judgement of thinking ken is lazy seems way too harsh. I believe in Ken, he had a set back, but any young man that has that much love an emotion for his mother gas my respect. That’s what I’m talkin about! Go ken, get on with your new place!

  6. Excellent article. I am facing some of these issues as well..

  7. felecia says:

    My fiancee and I went to Mama Lee’s for lunch and although the food was quite tasty the fact that our waitress did not try to hide her contempt for me made me very uncomfortable.Apparently seeing a white girl with and black man is a huge issue to them

  8. felecia says:

    Let’s clear this up right now.I am white,the man I’m marrying is black.One of their waitresses was unbelievably rude.Dirty looks.Rude attitude.Never offered to refill my drink but she did for everyone else.When ordering she didn’t even looked me in the face.Pretty much acted as though I wasn’t there.My fiancee,who happens to be black,noticed it also and tried to talk me out of leaving her a tip.Some folks need to stfu if they don’t know wtf they’re talking about.You’re dismissed dumbass

    • DBF says:

      Felicia, as soon as you had this sense you should have pointed it out to management. Even if it meant not eating there. This is much bigger than whether or not you tip a waitress. A good manager, someone trying to be successful would not allow that behavior in his employees. Ken seemed like he genuinely wanted the restaurant which honors his mother to be successful. You really should have given him this feedback.

    • KeithInKoeln says:

      Geesh….Do you kiss your Mama with that mouth? After reading Felicia's "complaint"; one has to wonder whether it was the server, or the customer's attitude that was the root of the real problem here…..

      • Brook says:

        I am not White but I feel I must defend Felicia. She is expressing her dissatisfaction with bad service and all you can say is…the poor waitress had a rough day…oh..maybe you had something to do with it…are you for real? This makes my blood boil. Hello…it's not the customer's fault the waitress is having a bad day…if she cannot handle the job…then she should quit!! The better comment was that this should have been reported to the manager/owner…chances are he does not have the same attitude as his help.

    • John says:

      why don't you repost this again and again and again and again…….. time to give it a rest felicia, i think everyone has seen your rant enough! sounds more like you have an issue about mixed race than anyone else!!

  9. Bob says:

    Great to hear Mama,s is picking up. Ken diserves a second chance. He will make it. Great show but I agree that more than 2 days is needed. Life is stressful enough you should not stress yourself and your help. Good show best of luck with it, I,m sure there are places in this area that could use the help..

    • GUEST says:

      Ken's a good guy and I hope his restaurant is successful. I know the food is much better than it was the first time I ate there. And the place is MUCH better than the "put together on a dime" ambiance I found there previously. Place really looks like a restaurant now.

  10. longtime watcher says:

    I watch RI but am becoming uncomfortable with Robert's ego. it's like now he's a star, and I'll probably have to quit him like I did Rachel Ray, Paula Deen and others whose fame went to their heads. when it becomes more about the schtick and less about the food, I'm over you.

    • GUEST says:

      Afraid I have to agree with you, though I'm still sticking with the show a little longer. Robert's definitely let things go to his head. Everything's hyped up and dramatized, to include his verbal dressing down of the owners and most of the staff. He yells, clutches his head and whines like a dog in pain. WAY overblown, Robert.

      And of course, there's always the fake tension between Robert and his designers/carpenters (though some of it seems real) … going to run out of time, costs, etc., etc. Always the same, nearly every show. They need a new "crisis."

      What I do like and find the most gratifying in watching the show is that Robert does an excellent job in helping folks identify and resolve their interpersonal relationships, whether it be other family members or amongst the owners/employees. That seems "real" and heartfelt. I think that's Robert at his best.

      I, too, wish that he would step down off the pedestal he's put himself on … it would help the show's appeal immensely.

    • karin tollner says:

      didnt know there might be other people that think exactly as i…its amazing,how people change..i would say rachel ray is the worst..also giada…bobby flay dont ever change…….

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