GREAT BARRINGTON — Hailing from the barbecue-starved precinct known as South County, Richard Stanley was driving along the country roads of Columbia County in New York last summer, heading to play a round of golf. That’s when he saw it, an improvised barbecue joint set up on foldout tables beside a convenience store in the town of Craryville.
Curious and hungry, he pulled over, ordered the brisket sandwich, bit into it and very soon had a pointed question for the cooks — a mother and her two sons.
“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing over here? Why aren’t you in Great Barrington?’” Stanley recalled. “And they said, ‘Oh, we can’t find the space.’”
They were definitely talking to the right brisket eater.
Stanley, the owner of several commercial spaces in Great Barrington and a man fully cognizant that "we have not had barbecue down here in South County for years," told them he just might well have the perfect spot coming available in early 2022.
The short version of the story is this: Momma Lo's Southern Style BBQ will open March 4, in the Barrington House Atrium on Main Street. The food will be takeout, and it might be good to know that, in the warmer months, its location is a mere couple of dozen feet from the tables and chairs that make up the town’s outdoor public courtyard, in the parking lot by the Triplex Cinema (which Stanley also owns).
The longer version of the story is that Momma Lo is the nickname of Lotetta McClennon, 66, whose Southern accent comes equipped with lovely syllables that stretch like taffy and who has a holy trinity to which she is a devoted servant.
Tops in that trinity is the lord Jesus Christ, followed by her five children, followed by jerk chicken, pulled pork, collard greens and the rest of a hallowed menu of Southern-style dishes she has been preparing from scratch and serving since she was a wee one living in Tennessee.
She said that, 23 years ago, she was living an anguished life in Atlanta, suffering in an abusive relationship, when she packed up her children and headed north. They found refuge at a shelter in Millerton, N.Y.
She eventually found her footing and found her way to a stove and resumed cooking — for her family, neighbors and new friends — while working various jobs. Several attempts at a professional cooking endeavor fizzled.
Then, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, two crucial things happened. She got laid off from her job at an inn, and neighbors of hers bought her two grills to motivate her toward full-time cooking. She opened her roadside eatery, Momma Lo's Southern Style BBQ, in Craryville in June 2020, and eager eaters began lining up.
That led to catering gigs for festivals, fundraisers and private gatherings, including a party hosted by the actor Linda Lavin, known for playing the title character in the sitcom “Alice.”
Then, Stanley pulled up in a cloud of hunger.
Indeed, McClennon's decadeslong aspiration has been to someday have her own place, bricks and mortar — and to do so with family. In Great Barrington, Momma Lo will run the show, assisted by her sons, Ahmed and Attarilm.
“God’s timing is perfect,” said McClennon, who now lives in Hillsdale, N.Y.
“We were looking for a storefront, for somewhere to grow and expand, for a long time, and Richard Stanley is the man," said Ahmed, who lives in Housatonic. "He’s giving us a chance. This is God’s plan. We believe that. We're just here to bring good vibes and good food to good people.”
This week, mother and sons still were applying elbow grease to their new home in Great Barrington. It smells like fresh paint and floor varnish now. It will smell like fresh food next Friday.
Most of the cooking will be done outside, in a space set aside by Stanley. There is no plan yet for those days of super inclement weather.
The menu will include ribs, brisket, barbecue chicken, jerk chicken, pulled pork, and side dishes such as macaroni and cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, collard greens and corn muffins.
“This is all our family’s first dream,” Ahmed said.
“No, we put God first,” his mother gently corrected him. She explained that everything she cooks is made with “love and prayer” and that she starts her meats at 9 a.m. sharp.
Ahmed, by the way, is an accomplished musician and recording artist who goes by the name of Buddha da Great. On Wednesday morning, as he was showing a visitor Momma Lo’s new home, he got so excited, he starting rhyming:
Welcome to Momma Lo’s,
good barbecue for the low.
We got two smokers,
that’s Frazier and Smoking Joe.
The food so good you can smell it in the Poconos.
Come down and get you a rib plate,
tell them I told you so.
We got baked beans, mac and cheese and soda on the side.
Once it hits your taste buds,
you know that you alive.
Aye, you know that it’s a vibe,
every time that you arrive.
We stay switching up the menu
just to keep you guys surprised.
He couldn't help himself.
His mom just shook her head and smiled.
“He’s awesome,” she said.
Ahmed put his arms around her.
“We’re all about making people feel better,” Ahmed explained.
Their new landlord, Stanley, himself, already feels better.
“I'm anxious to try the ribs,” he said.