Miss New Foodie: Children Help Their Mother’s Culinary Dreams Come True

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By: Annalisa Francesca Ciro

You’ve found ‘Miss New Foodie,’ a new column composed by Annalisa Francesca Ciro where she sheds a little light on local eateries.

VINELAND, N.J. — Rich, full-bodied, and bursting with flavor — though this imagery screams Megan Thee Stallion, it likewise illustrates the mouth-watering soul food served at Little Momma’s Cooking in Vineland. This nascent spot owned by chef Aiysha Imani and her children is hidden along the Vineland-Millville border, and although their location is modest in diameter, their flavors are of considerable magnitude.

A mere three weeks old, Little Momma’s Cooking already has cars lined up around the block from open until close for their comforting cuisine, crafted by a family of hard-working,motivated, and kind-hearted individuals. The remarkable prosperity of this family-owned small business in such a short period of time, in part, points to the dynamic foundation set by Aiysha’s family. Each member of the family supported and collaborated with each other to make Little Momma’s possible.

The business currently operates as a humble take-out restaurant with a succinct menu of such quintessential classics as fried chicken with yams and collard greens. Down to the sides, each feature on the menu is treated
with an unmistakable TLC that even Chilli, T-Boz, and Left Eye would endorse. The food is fresh and the flavors are vibrant — put simply, Little Momma’s Cooking puts the “soul” in soul food.

“I love good food so even if this wasn’t my mom’s spot, I swear I would still be here every day,” said Aiysha’s son, Ellis Johnson, with confidence.

And Ellis is not alone in his convictions. The local community has been vocal about their support of this up-and-coming business.

“The food is very comforting and home-style,” said Jenifer Benderoth, a satisfied first-time customer. “Everything was seasoned perfectly and the flavors stand out compared to most restaurants in the area.”

“We wish Little Momma’s much success because there’s plenty of business for both of us out here for us to both succeed,” said Darryl McDuffie Jr., co-owner of Taste Buds soul food in Vineland.

Their ever-evolving success, however, could not have been realized without the drive of her five dedicated and supportive children. Together, they turned their mother’s dreams of owning a restaurant into a reality with the acquisition of Little Momma’s current, and first official, location — and they’re all under still under the age of 25.

“My goal was to have this open by my mom’s birthday, and her birthday is actually [this] week,” Ellis said, with a smile. The gift of business ownership is the ultimate birthday present, especially for Aiysha.

“I’m very thankful,” said Aiysha. “You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

Platter with fried whiting, rice with red sauce, and yams. (Photo courtesy of Morgan Bishop.)

And even though the business’s introduction to the community has started out small-scale, it has come a long way from where the idea for it began three years ago. Little Momma’s was born out of Aiysha’s kitchen in 2017, where she sold her tasty platters to local schools, businesses, organizations, and members of the community.

Eventually the home business grew so popular and demanding that the she could not continue working within the confines of a household kitchen. But the family would not allow their mother’s dream to die. Aiysha’s children invested countless pennies out of pocket and hours researching the ins-and-outs of starting a new business. Her eldest son Ellis traveled to a host of local restaurants, studying their menus and compiling information on successful and unsuccessful business practices.

The negotiator that he is, Ellis persuaded Paul Riggins, CEO of Riggins Oil, to lease his family a small property adjacent to the Riggins gas station in Vineland — a tiny stretch of land that Little Momma’s Cooking now calls home.
While his commitment and perseverance is undeniable, Ellis remains humble about this novel experience.

“It’s not easy. You lose sleep — no more eight-hour sleeps,” Ellis confessed. “But you just can’t give up. You gotta have the mindset to keep going no matter what. If somebody tells you ‘no,’ there’s another way to find a ‘yes.’ Like I tell my mom every time she gets frustrated: there’s a solution to every problem.”

Buried behind a gas station on the border of two rival cities is this moving story of a family’s mission to materialize their mother’s dream of owning a restaurant — a continuously maturing story of giving back to family and to the community. Little Momma’s has goals of expanding their business to a sit-down restaurant before the end of the year, and they invite the community to help them to grow into a household name and a staple of soul food cuisine in South Jersey.

“Soul food makes you happy — it brings a smile to your face,” said Ellis. “So take the time to actually come and try Little Momma’s. Give us feedback and don’t always go off what the next person says — come try for yourself. And I want to shout out to all the small businesses in the area — I wish you all success.”

Aiysha Imani in front of Little Momma’s Cooking (Photo Courtesy of Melissa Garcia-Parra)

Little Momma’s Cooking is located on 4133 South Main Road, Building 2, next to the Riggins Gas Station in South Vineland. Until their grand opening (within the next few weeks), Little Momma’s opens every day around 1 p.m.

However, once the ribbon is officially cut, their hours will be as follows: open Monday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.; closed Tuesday; open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.; and open Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. You can reach Little Momma’s by phone at (856) 300-7215, and they can be found on Google, Facebook, and Instagram @littlemommascooking.