LaTwana Scott’s love of cooking started when she was 11 years old. Her mom needed help in the kitchen and taught her how to cook. The first recipes she learned were greens, mac and cheese and dressings.
Scott immediately knew that she found her passion and, using her own allowance, she bought her first cook book, a Berenstain Bears. With that book, she started to “experiment” with cookies by adding her own ingredients.
“I used to cook for my older brother while my mom worked, and he really enjoyed my cookies and mac and cheese,” remembered Scott, now 44 years old.
In January 2018, Scott fulfilled her longtime dream of owning a restaurant, called Sweet Mama T’s, located in El Dorado, Arkansas. Her signature dishes are BBQ chicken, pot roast and meat loaf. Her customers rave about those dishes on the restaurant’s Facebook page, as well as the cream cheese pound cake and caramel cake.
Scott said that one of the best parts of owning a business is working with some of her family members – her older brother, aunts and cousins. Her two daughters, TaSheika and Taniah, 27 and 12 years old respectively, inherited their mother’s love of cooking. They provide a helping hand and also bring their own recipes to test out.
“They are very good cooks, just like me!” said Scott, who is a single mother. “We enjoy cooking together and trying their cooking ideas.”
She explained that her cafeteria-style restaurant is popular because she cooks “food like mama makes,” which is the restaurant’s motto. She also shares with her customers the recipes her mother taught her as a child: the greens, mac and cheese and dressings.
“I want to remember what it felt like or what it feels like when they eat the food that their mother or grandmother makes – that feeling of home and love,” she said.
Before Scott opened the restaurant, she had two jobs – as a school bus driver and as a dispatcher at a local police station. And, to make ends meet, she had a home-based catering business, an idea she started to explore while in high school. She would bring casseroles for her classmates to try; then, she started doing the same at church. She was not charging at the time; she simply enjoyed seeing people eating the food she made.
“Then a girl from church asked me to cater her 70s-theme party,” said Scott. “I was nervous, but it turned out okay.” The “girl from church” was El Dorado Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer, who became the first elected African-American mayor in 2018.
In 2017, Scott decided to pursue her love of cooking on a full-time basis. She developed a business plan on her own and made an appointment with Southern Bancorp, a local community development financial institution (CDFI), to seek financial assistance.
CDFIs play a critical role in bringing investment and resources to underserved communities, providing access to capital to aspiring entrepreneurs, for example, who may not be eligible for traditional small business financing.
Recognizing the valuable role that these institutions play in communities across the country, U.S. Bank provides CDFIs with financing in the form of loans, investments and donations – extending more than $185 million in 2018. In the case of Southern Bancorp, for example, a $100,000 donation from U.S. Bank toward its Opportunity Center program helped make it possible to extend a small business loan to Scott to open Sweet Mama T’s.
“They believed in my plan and encouraged me to dream big,” said Scott.
Not long ago, Scott was worried about making ends meet. Now she’s on track to achieving financial independence.
“I am happy that I am making a living by doing what I love the most – cooking.”