Vibe Out: Owners of ‘Big Mammas Cooking on Wheels’ bringing customers good food & ‘Great Outdoors’ experience
Written by Nakia Cooper on August 2, 2021
Looking for some good old-fashioned, down home, Louisiana-style soul food? Well, you don’t have to hit I-10 to enjoy it, you can find it right here in the Houston / Missouri City area right off of Highway 6. Big Mammas Cooking on Wheels is the first food truck we’ve featured for our “Vibe Out” series and we had a chance to speak to the owner, former NFL coach, O’Neill Gilbert, and his daughter, Carrington. Together, they’ve grown an impressive roster of loyal customers who drive from miles around to grab the great food to go.
Vibe Houston: Tell us a bit about your background. Are you from Houston?
O’ Neill: I am from Monroe, Louisiana and a graduate of Texas A & M University – College Station, where I played football. I moved to Houston when I became a linebacker coach for the Houston Oilers before leaving with the team to join the Tennessee Titans organization in 1996.
Vibe Houston: How did you go from coaching to cooking?
O’ Neill: I’m a self-taught cook. As the oldest brother of six children, I grew up cooking and my love for it developed over the years.
When I was with the Tennessee Titans, the year we went to the Super Bowl, I visited a soul food place in Nashville by the name of Swett’s. I loved their concept and decided to open a similar eatery using my grandmother’s name. From that, my family became the proud owners of Big Momma’s Fine Foods in Monroe, Louisiana, which has been in business for 22 years. We are also listed among the “Top 5” restaurants in the entire state. We brought the food truck here in September 2013 after I got out of coaching.
Vibe Houston: Where is the primary location of your food truck and what do you serve?
O’Neill: Our primary location is Highway 6 near the Teal Run subdivision (situated in the Walgreens parking lot) Tuesdays – Saturdays. I picked that location because it seemed to be about 50,000 “belly buttons” with not a whole lot of options, so we felt like providing more than just pizza and burgers. We felt like we needed to do something different. In the fall, we do “Soul Food Fridays” with ox tails and stuffed turkey legs. We also have “Bayou Fridays” with catfish stuffed with crawfish e’touffe, Cajun rice and a lot of different things. And of course, our everyday menu includes our staple homemade hamburgers, fried pork chops, chicken wings and other favorites. We also do barbecue.
Vibe Houston: What do you feel is the best feature of your business, besides the food?
Carrington: Patrons get something different when they visit us. We are a family business and provide a family experience. Anybody who comes to the truck knows that “Big O” is going to fill up their bellies and they are going to walk away with a smile knowing their family will be fed very well. We believe that is why people return over and over again to the food truck. It’s not just about the food, but it is also about the comradery they get interacting with my dad.
Vibe Houston: How have you adjusted during COVID?
O’ Neill: Lucky for us, business was still doing well throughout COVID. Food prices went up, and we had to adjust a few minor things to provide our customers the same high quality they’ve grown accustomed to.
Vibe Houston: What do you do to give back to the community?
O’ Neill: We’ve done a lot over the years. Before the pandemic, we supported many annual events, teaming with barbershops for Back-to-School, Mother’s Day and other community events where we feed the attendees. We go where needed. The community has shown so much love to us and we make sure we show love back.
Vibe Houston: How do you feel about the renewed interest or national push of supporting Black businesses? Do you think it will be short-lived?
Carrington: The abundance in the community supporting Black-owned businesses has been epic during the pandemic. When other people were closing the doors on us, people have showed up and showed out. We want to really thank the community for supporting Big Mammas Cooking on Wheels this past year because without them, we definitely would probably not be doing this interview with you all. People are still calling to see if my dad is out there before he even has the chance to warm up the stove. They are ready to come spend their money.
O’Neill: I think we have learned a lot about our culture. I think we have learned that if we support each other and keep our Black dollars close, that we can bring other Black businesses along. Through the pandemic, we are learning from one another and are finally starting to realize we can and we do own things, and we can and we will support each other.
Vibe Houston: We love to see the father – daughter bond you both share. What’s next for you two? What more do you have in store for us?
Carrington: Coming soon, we are going to move into the RV Rental business. As you know, the Black community is underserved in the area of having accessibility to outdoor activity and we are going to offer some Big Mammas camping resources to provide to people in Greater Houston and the surrounding areas. We are excited that will be up and going in the coming weeks. We want to have fun while giving people a new experience with everything we do. There is a lot you can do with RVs. We are expected to be operational ahead of the upcoming Galveston Bike Fest, and there is football season for tailgating, music festivals, including the highly-anticipated Astroworld Fest. There are so many opportunities for exploration people can open themselves up to.
I can tell you from personal experience the joys of RVs. My dad would take me on road trips during the football off-seasons and we drove everywhere – from Buffalo, New York to California and he would stop off at amusement parks and other places while we toured the country. I think it is absolutely important for everyone to see places outside of your local communities. I am so thankful for my dad. I have been my dad’s “road dawg” since I could talk and we are going into 2022 the same way. Part of our relationship was built on the “Great Outdoors,” exploring the country together and we are still thick as thieves.
Vibe Houston: Any last thoughts to share?
Carrington: Statistics show that 50 % of small businesses fail by year 5. We are heading toward a decade for Big Mammas Cooking on Wheels, so we know we are here to stay and here to support our community as we grow with the ever-changing times. If we can do it, so can you. Create a plan.
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