Mary Samuelson (left) and daughter Amy Keller (right) stand beneath a portrait of the restaurant's namesake.
For years, Mary Samuelson had been struggling to manage two full-time careers: her day job as a researcher and her evening and weekend gig as the chef and owner of Mama Josephine's (4000 Shaw Boulevard; 314-771-4001)
. Finally, she reached her breaking point. "I just couldn't do it anymore," Samuelson sighs. "It finally came to the point where I had to either find a buyer or partner for the restaurant or I was going to have to close it."
Closing the beloved Shaw neighborhood comfort food spot was never Samuelson's first choice. Opened in 2010, Mama Josephine's is much more than a restaurant to Samuelson — it's a way to honor her mother's memory by serving her unique blend of Southern and Italian home-cooking to a new generation of diners. For six years, she's spent her days doing quantitative research for a technology consulting company and her nights and weekends cooking her mom's recipes at the restaurant. It was already an 80-hour work week for Samuelson, so when her daytime employer notified her they were ramping up her workload, she realized she could no longer do both.
See also: Mama Josephine's Reopens, Thanks to Its Neighbors
"I have great people who work for me, but when one of them calls in sick and I can't be there, the restaurant has to close," Samuelson explains. "We've had to do that about ten times, and that's no way to run a business."
Several months ago, Samuelson took out an ad on Craigslist to see if there were any prospective buyers. Right away, she was contacted by Antonio Ellis of Five ACES BBQ
, who explained to her that he was interested in opening a brick and mortar location for his food truck business. "Right away we just clicked," says Samuelson. "We got to talking about the type of food we both cook and what we both wanted for the restaurant. Finally, he just asked me if I'd be interested in partnering with him."
Though the details are not yet firm, Samuelson explains that the plan is for Five ACES BBQ to serve both its barbecue and her mother's recipes, while keeping the name Mama Josephine's. Ellis will handle the day-to-day business operations of the restaurant, but Samuelson will still come in to prepare her mother's recipes.
Samuelson insists that the only change customers should notice is that the restaurant will now be able to offer barbecue every day rather than sporadically. "I can only serve it when they weather is good. I'm not standing out there in the cold barbecuing. I can't handle that," she laughs.
To read the statement Samuelson posted on March 4th to her Shaw neighbors on NextDoor, read below:
I have heard this question a lot from friends and customers of late, so I wanted to give you an update. As many of you know, I have a regular job in addition to being a restaurant owner. It has become increasingly difficult for me to maintain both, so I have been seeking a partner to take on more of the restaurant responsibility. And guess what??? I think I found one! I am extremely excited about this,and hope you will be too! Have you heard of Five ACES BBQ? You can check out their FB page if you'd like to read about them. They operate a very successful food truck here in St. Louis, and are looking for a brick and mortar location. They serve smoked bbq brisket, pulled pork, ribs, rib tips, hand made burgers, pork steaks, and lots of other good stuff. Antonio, the owner of Five ACES, is setting up his smoker on our patio tomorrow and will be preparing his wonderful smoked offerings so that ya'll can check him out. I think this is a perfect pairing for my mom's recipes, and will hopefully allow us to continue to serve them, with the addition of another Southern favorite, smoked BBQ! Best of all, if this works out, I would have a partner who not only brings a wonderful new offering to MJ's but will be able to take over some of my responsibilities as well! Come by this weekend and check out Antonio's BBQ and let me know what you think!
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