Originally posted June 27 at 9 a.m. / Updated June 27 at 2:51 p.m. with correct phone number
By Amanda Sulker-Hall
Big Mama’s Rib Shack, also known as Big Mama’s, opened in 2002 but the origins of this family restaurant began further south east of California in Chattanooga, Tenn. where the founder, Dargin McWhorter, was raised. The family-owned soul food restaurant located on Lake Avenue has brought love and comfort to Pasadena for 17 years. Owners Darron and Dargetta McWhorter, the children of the original founder, wanted to bring something special to Pasadena and they did just that. Dargin’s mother, “Big Mama,” who can be seen watching over the entire restaurant, is a large part of the inspiration behind opening this restaurant.
Big Mama’s is best known for their tangy and flavor filled rack of ribs. The sauce that gives these ribs their zesty taste comes from a secret barbeque sauce that keeps customers wanting more. In a conversation with Dargin McWhorter, he recalled how many of his neighbors believed his family had the best barbeque sauce but the sauce that stood out to him was Annie May’s. In elementary school, he remembers saving money just to get a bite of her barbeque and every Friday when she grilled in her backyard the smell of the sauce would drift through the streets and the whole neighborhood could smell it. He would purchase her famous slider for only 35 cents and, as McWhorter recalls, the rib meat would fall off the bone and was served with coleslaw, neatly packed into a bun.
Annie May’s sauce was truly a wonder and she only disclosed the ingredients of her sauce to McWhorter. McWhorter recalls Annie May saying, “since you like my sauce so much I’m only going to tell you what I put in it, but not how much” and that’s where it all began. Annie May then left it up to him to play with the ingredients in order to get the precise measurements. McWhorter says it’s not an exact copy but it’s the very same sauce that would become a house favorite.
The tangy-flavored barbeque sauce recipe was perfected by McWhorter’s wife of 57 years, Anita, who he constantly refers to as “my sweetie.” She also brought back to life all Big Mama’s original recipes. You can still find her hard at work in the kitchen referring back to all she learned when Big Mama taught her their family recipes. There is no question. Big Mama’s love for cooking and passion to teach others has contributed to their success.
This family friendly restaurant with a rich history is also filled with endless memories. According to McWhorter’s grandson Daylen McWhorter, his favorite memories at the restaurant include eating with his grandfather and “catching up on life.” Another fond memory comes from Darron who recalls a time when he had been making a cobbler for a carryout order and accidentally used salt instead of sugar. Memories such as these will forever live with the McWhorters.
Despite having much success, Big Mama’s Rib Shack will be closing on July 20 upon losing their lease. The McWhorter family is hopeful Big Mama’s will still be dishing out their family favorites; they hope to find a kitchen to work out of to fill catering orders. Over the years, Big Mama’s has contributed to the community by participating in the Pasadena Bridge Party yearly and donating to local schools. When asked what’s next for the family McWhorter replies, “I want to teach people how to cook their own food. I want to package the seasonings, rubs, and sauces with guides on how to prepare the foods our customers have come to love.”
Visit Big Mama’s before it’s gone at 1453 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena. They can also be reached by calling (626) 797-1792 or by visiting bigmamaspasadena.com.