Restaurant Impossible - Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant - CLOSED

Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant Restaurant Impossible

In this Restaurant Impossible episode, Chef Robert Irvine visits Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant was opened by retired Air force Sergeant Ken Lee 4 years ago.

He believed his air force training as a cook would prepare him for running a restaurant.

But running a restaurant is much harder than he thought and he is struggling to make money.

He bought in his nephew Robert to cook in the kitchen but he has no formal training.

He only knows how to cook from what he has been taught by Ken.

The kitchen is in disrepair with broken fryers, ovens, a leaking sink and the fridge leaks.

Robert knows that this is going to be a huge project so he brings in HGTV's TV cousins Anthony and John.

Ken is behind on his rent to the landlord and all of his bills for the utilites and to his vendors.

Robert arrives and is impressed by the size of the dining room, although they are not using all of the space.

Robert meets with Ken to discuss the restaurant.

Ken reveals that he named the restaurant after his mother as she was an inspiration as he was growing up.

She raised four children on her own and worked three jobs to be able to support the family.

When he came out of the military he wanted to open a restaurant as it was a lifelong dream of his.

Ken reveals that he has put $160,000 into the business but he doesn't own the business.

He has 90 days left to turn the restaurant around before he will be forced to close.

Robert asks local diners to come to the restaurant so that he can observe a service.

They aren't impressed with the decor.

One brands it to look like a high school graduation and the food isn't much better.

They aren't impressed with the food as the waffle is bland and the okra looks ominous.

Robert samples the gumbo and finds it over salted, the pork chop is fatty and tough.

Robert doesn't think that any of the food is cooked with heart or with soul.

He enters the kitchen to talk about the poor food that he tasted.

Robert notices how filthy the kitchen is with grease dripping for everything.

He questions Ken on how often he would clean his kitchen in the military and he would clean every day.

It is clear that he isn't cleaning his kitchen at the restaurant every day.

The kitchen has not been properly cleaned in years.

He looks under a unit and finds rat and mouse droppings all over the kitchen equipment.

The staff admit that they have lost their motivation as they aren't being paid much.

The TV cousins are going to tackle the kitchen renovation.

They brand it as the most disgusting kitchen they have seen.

They empty the kitchen and it needs a lot of plumbing and electrical work.

They have just 24 hours to do this as well as the appliances being cleaned and fixed.

Luckily they are used to demanding clients and call Robert a whole other level of demanding.

Robert meets designer Taniya in the huge, filthy dining room.

He reveals they are only tackling the dining room but on a reduced budget of just $2000.

Taniya is going to need to make sure to be careful with every cent of the budget.

They start by dismantling the bar whilst Robert knocks a hole in the wall.

Robert creates a hole into the dish area to save time for the servers walking through into the kitchen.

In doing so he discovers a cockroach nest in the wall.

The cockroaches are everywhere and they reveal they have never seen an infestation so bad.

Robert has to call in an exterminator to kill the roaches.

Due to the kitchen being unavailable Robert has set up a kitchen outside so he can begin work on a new menu.

Robert gives Ken a blind trust exercise and it is successful in proving the point that he can be a great leader.

Before he leaves for the day Robert checks in with the design team.

Taniya reveals that they have bought vinyl flooring, that comes in a roll and is much cheaper than tiles.

Robert arrives the next day and checks in with the decor team.

He loves the wall they have done and the heart feature to promote the soul of the restaurant.

Tom is concerned about how long the floor will take.

In the kitchen the cousins have made great progress and are pushing hard to finish.

Robert takes the chefs to the outside kitchen and discovers they only have two knives and 36 plates for the restaurant.

They also don't have much silverware or cups.

Robert knows they need equipment and takes them to a local mini mart called Ace Mart.

The owner offers to help out with what they need and they provide everything they need.

Robert leaves with a car full of donations from them and Ken is humbled and grateful.

Back at the temporary kitchen Robert shows them a new Greens Stuffed Roasted Chicken dish to offer alongside soul food.

After a final clean the new kitchen is revealed and Ken is shocked at the makeover as it looks like a different kitchen.

They run behind with the dining room renovation and the restaurant opens nearly two hours later than planned.

The makeover is revealed to Ken and Robert, who are overwhelmed by what they have achieved in the dining room and Ken loves the new bar.

Ken brings in Alma Lee, aka Mama Lee and she is also overwhelmed by the changes and it is so endearing to see with many tears.

On relaunch night, the customers love the heart detail in the entrance and the new bright decor.

They think it is beautiful and that it looks like a new restaurant.

The queue is out the door and tickets are lined up in the kitchen with Ken expediting.

The food is a big hit with the customers, who are loving the new soul food and promise to return.



What Happened Next at Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant?


Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews following Robert's visit were mostly good with the odd bad review.

Four months later, Ken reports that business is up 15%.

He is seeing new customers as well as beginning to pay off some of the restaurants debts.

Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant closed in July 2013 after failing a health inspection.

The inspectors found a disgusting 42 de-merits/violations including roaches and rodent droppings.

Mama Lee's Soul Food Restaurant was Restaurant Impossible season 3 episode 8 and aired on May 02 2012.


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This post was last updated in April 2021.

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