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.

He bought in his nephew Robert to cook in the kitchen but he had no formal training, he only knows 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 all of his bill to his landlord and vendors.

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

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

Ken reveals that he has put $160,000 into the business but he doesn't own the business. He has 90 days left to tjurn the restaurant arount.

Robert asks local diners to come to the restaurant so that he can observe a service and they aren't impressed with the decor.

One brands it to look like a high school graduation and the food isn't much better. 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 and Robert doesn't think it is cooked with heart or with soul.

He enters the kitchen to talk about the food and notices how filthy the kitchen is with grease dripping for everything.

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 and 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 as well as the appliances being cleaned and fixed.

Robert meets designer Taniya in the huge, filthy space and reveals they are only tackling the dining room. 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. 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 gives Ken a blind trust exercise and it is successful in proving the point that he can be a great leader.

Robert arrives the next day and checks in with the decor team. He loves the wall they have done and the heart feature. 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 silverware or cups.

Robert takes them to a local mini mart Ace Mart and 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 dish of roasted chicken with peaches and green stuffing 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 details and the new bright decor. They think it is beautiful and 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% and 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.

Recipes in this episode

Greens Stuffed Roasted Chicken

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

Click for more Restaurant Impossible Restaurants

Previous episode - Pelican Grill

Next episode - Pappas Restaurant

This post was last updated in August 2020.

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