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Barbara Stockton's is such a familiar face to Little Rock diners it's a bit surprising to find that she resisted entering the restaurant business. Both she and her husband, Fleming Stockton, were in other lines of work, and he was the one who dreamed of opening a restaurant. Barbara begged him not to. “Running a restaurant is hard work, and a lot of restaurants fail,” she said in a recent interview.
But the dream prevailed. Fleming Stockton already had a name for his planned restaurant, “Your Mama's Good Food,” and a concept, a 1950s-style plate-lunch place. He traveled the state collecting the memorabilia now displayed on his restaurant's walls — a Royal Crown Cola sign, a Chesterfields ad featuring a pre-presidential Ronald Reagan, a Look magazine cover.
The Stocktons opened their first restaurant in 1990 at Markham and Shackleford, where the Star of India is now. They've moved around, but since December of 2004 they've been in the Tower Building in downtown Little Rock. The space was once occupied by a strong competitor, the Blue Plate, but the people who'd made the Blue Plate popular sold to a new group and the restaurant sank after that. Your Mama's, then in a small space a block away on Louisiana Street, seized the opportunity to move to larger quarters.
While Your Mama's was on Louisiana it attained a kind of fame that is rare for plate-lunch places. The Bill Clinton for President campaign moved into the old Arkansas Gazette building at Third and Louisiana. The campaign manager, James Carville, discovered Your Mama's and raved about it to others, including members of the national media who then wrote about it. Carville, a Southerner, was particularly fond of the red beans and rice, Barbara Stockton recalls. If you went to Your Mama's in the summer of '92, you might see George Stephanopolous at the next table. Brit Hume. Diane Sawyer.
The reason Barbara Stockton's face is known is that she's the out-front person, operating the cash register, handling the catering part of the business and hobnobbing with regulars. Her husband is the cook, and the developer of one of the restaurant's two “signature” items — the big and delicious yeast rolls, chosen for the cover shot of this year's Readers Choice edition. The other “secret” recipe at Your Mama's is for the much-admired meatloaf and its accompanying Creole sauce. That was developed by a former partner of Fleming Stockton's who's no longer associated with Your Mama's.
People buy Your Mama's rolls to take home in quantity. Because of the rolls, the day before Thanksgiving is always Your Mama's biggest day of the year. Barbara said her husband once baked 99 dozen rolls on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
She also said that Fleming aspires to write a book for would-be restaurateurs, “So You Want to Own Your Own Restaurant.” If he includes the roll recipe, it'll sell.
Your Mama's Good Food
Tower Building, Fourth and Center
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.