Sweet Mama was cutting a butter cake into squares yesterday morning and sizing up her situation. Opportunity seemed to be knocking, but would Mama open up?
This week, a group of three investors from Washington proposed a way to keep Elizabeth A. Parker, known variously as Sweet Mama, Sweets or just plain Mama, in the restaurant business in Davidsonville as plans for a new shopping plaza threaten to shut her down.
Parker's playing it cool, though, waiting to see the details.
"It will all depend on how everything works out with the lawyer and his advice," said Parker, standing behind the six-stool counter.
For 14 years, Parker has dished up helpings of pork chops, sweet potato pie and fried chicken in a wooden shack of a building at the corner of Route 214 and Patuxent River Road. Between her cooking and the force of her personality, Sweet Mama has attracted a following among area residents and among the truckers and construction workers who ply Route 214 daily.
She proudly reports that when people visit friends in the area from as far away as Washington state, New Orleans, Massachusetts and Canada, they sometimes call ahead to order their favorite Sweet Mama specialty.
Recognizing that Sweet Mama's Home Cooked Food has become a neighborhood institution, the Montgomery County developers who plan to build the eight-store Davidsonville Station have said from the start they want Parker to open a restaurant there. Plans call for a 24,000-foot plaza with stores on the ground floor, offices on the second floor.
The trouble is Parker does not have the money to invest in a new restaurant and -- according to a county economic development official -- cannot qualify for a government-backed business loan. Besides, Parker says she doesn't want to go into debt.
George B. Pearce of Davidsonville Realty, the project leasing agent,said he got a call Sunday from one of three Washington investors, two with restaurant experience, one in the construction business. They'd heard about Parker's plight. They have offered to put up the money for the new restaurant and operate it under the Sweet Mama name with Parker in charge of the kitchen. Pearce declined to release their names.
"It's a sweet deal, and I'm going to try to do it," said Pearce.
Parker is not so sure.
"I'd be working for somebody else," said Parker. "I keep saying I don't want to work for somebody else. He(Pearce) says it's entirely up to me. If that's the case I've got toget a lawyer to negotiate for me.
"It took me 14 years to build the reputation I have," Parker said.
"I'm not going to give it to somebody else for nothing. I worked for it. I worked hard."
Pearce said the developers are applying for a county permit to add more parking spaces and expect to begin construction on the six-acre site in May or June.
Parker's business, mean while, is suffering from a slowdown in construction. Many regular customers are truckers at nearby gravel and construction companies. And many of them have lost their jobs. She said receipts have fallen to $50 a day on some days. Daily sales usually are $150 to $250, she said.