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"Big Mama" Gets Big Helping Hand

These pieces originally aired in late March 2008.

The Early Show is lending a helping hand to struggling small businesses, using them as examples any small business could follow.

In our series, "Early on the Case: Small Business, Big Rescue," we give the businesses makeovers and report to you as we do.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Yet Another Big Surprise For "Big Mama"

Brenda Franklin was already well along the path of being mentored by experts from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, who were helping her get her struggling, year-old soul food takeout restaurant, "Big Mama's House of Soul," onto solid ground. Her dream is to make her Pittsburgh establishment into a sit-down eatery - even a combo restaurant/jazz club - since she sings jazz out loud as she cooks. She sings from the soul.

Her delicious takeout food sets her apart. But what makes "Big Mama's House of Soul" so special is the way Franklin makes everyone feel at home, whether they're Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Hines Ward, or a first-time customer.

"Big Mama is just a fun-lovin' person," Ward says. "She's kinda like the big mama that everybody once had."

On Saturday, Franklin's guiding light chef, Ruth's Chris VP of Culinary Jim Cannon, joined her on The Early Show and they reviewed the ground they'd already covered.

Then, a top-secret surprise guest walked in: Tim Adams, principal timpanist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He announced the "Brenda Franklin Scholarship Fund" to honor her wish to give back to her community.

In collaboration with the Pittsburgh Foundation, deserving Pittsburgh music students will get assistance to purchase musical instruments. Donations can be made to the fund beginning Saturday, and seed money will also come from the auction of a Pittsburgh Steelers rocking chair that sits in the front window of Franklin's restaurant. The Steelers, fans of her soul food, will have all their players sign the chair and auction it for Franklin's charity.

Adams gave Franklin a signed photo of the orchestra, which he said he hopes will live on the wall of her restaurant.

To see the segment,


Contributions to the Brenda Franklin Scholarship Fund should be sent to:

The Pittsburgh Foundation
5 PPG Place, Suite 250
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222

Checks should be made out to "The Pittsburgh Foundation" or "The Pittsburgh Foundation -- Franklin Fund." Any checks that are made out directly to "The Franklin Fund" or "Brenda Franklin" or any variation that doesn't include "The Pittsburgh Foundation" will not be accepted by the fund's bank.

Credit card gifts may be made by going to The contributor can enter his/her information and "Brenda Franklin Fund" in the "Name of Fund" line. You could also go to

Information on the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra can be found at

Friday, March 28

"Big Mama" A Big Step Closer To Her Big Dream

Brenda Franklin, whose "Big Mama's House of Soul" soul food takeout restaurant survived a tough first year, went with her mentors from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse to scout a potential location for a combo sit-down eatery/jazz club - she sings the blues out loud as she cooks, and says she learned how to sing in "the school of hard knocks."

Then, the mentors showed Franklin the kitchen of a Pittsburgh Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and she was wowed. She was taught, among other things, about negotiating with suppliers for better prices and better produce, organizing her kitchen, and developing accurate recipes and flawless cooking techniques.

Franklin told them, "You have changed my life so much just in these couple of days. I'm gonna make you so proud, because you have shown me that, if I could continue to dream, if I perservere, that there's nothing too hard."

They then enjoyed a group hug.

In New York Friday, an emotional Franklin told Harry Smith, "I'm blessed. I can't complain," adding she now sees she has to focus as much on the business aspects of her operation as the food.

To see that segment,


Later, on The Early Show plaza, Franklin's Ruth's Chris mentors - Jim Cannon, VP Culinary, Kevin Armantrout, Regional VP, and Lanette Jarvis, Public Relations director - surprised her by stopping by.

They all joined Smith in sampling such Franklin soul food specialties as ribs, pulled pork, sweet potato pie, greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread, crabmeat stuffing, peach cobbler, and her famous "Steel City Soppin'" sauce.

Then, another surprise, as Cannon gave Franklin an envelope with two round-trip plane tickets for her and her son, Vamar, who also works in "Big Mama's," for a ten-day, all-expenses-paid trip to New Orleans, where Ruth's Chris is opening a new restaurant. They'll be trained in the front and back of the restaurant as if they were regular staff. Those on the plaza got a live look Big Mama's, where Vamar showed his mom all sorts of kitchen equipment bought for them by Ruth's Chris.

To enjoy the videos,

and .

Thursday, March 27

Mentors Of "Big Mama" Get Lowdown On Her Operation

Brenda Franklin showed the ins and outs of her business to the folks from the Ruth's Chris steakhouse chain who are helping her make it over. They immediately began to teach Franklin about coming up with standardized recipes and calculating costs and profit margins. But, as Ruth's Chris Vice President of Culinary Jim Cannon put it, Franklin has "the drive, she's got the heart, she has a good quality product. So now, she just has to make sure that she can execute them all the time. People are gonna love it."

To watch the segment,


To visit the Big Mama Web site, click here.

Wednesday, March 26

"Big Mama" Getting Help, Big-Time!

"Big Mama" makes food for the soul, and it's heartfelt.

In her Pittsburgh takeout restaurant, "Big Mama's House of Soul," Brenda Franklin serves dishes prepared from recipes handed down in her family for generations.

She also reaches deep down as she sings the Blues out loud as she does the cooking.

Brenda hasn't had an easy life, and the business isn't making any money for her yet, she says.

But her place has become a neighborhood fixture, and The Early Show is stepping in to help her realize her dream of establishing a sit-down soul food restaurant.

We brought mentors from the famous Ruth's Chris Steakhouse to offer a guiding hand.

Franklin got very emotional when they arrived, and wiped tears from her eyes as she later spoke with co-anchor Harry Smith, explaining that a packed eatery is "my dream. That's my vision. Every color, every creed. I want everybody to be able to come in and enjoy what it's really all about. It's all about the music and then the food. Because that's what it originated from."

"There's Southern food and then there's soul food. This food is from the soul!" Franklin emphasizes.

Follow her progress here each day through Saturday.

To watch the video of the Wednesday segment,

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