For entrepreneur Tanacha Thedford, paying tribute to her two grandmothers is at the heart of Big Momma’s & Granny’s Catering. This September, she plans to open in Bartlett the small business' first brick-and-mortar location.
“They were great inspirational people in my life. I learned a lot from them as far as life values, as well as lessons on the catering side,” said Thedford. “With my Big Momma, there were a lot of us so she had to feed a lot all the time, and then my Granny was big on presentation, making things look pretty. So I took the best of both of them and put it together as far as what I do for my business.”
Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Thedford initially moved to Memphis to work as a flight attendant for Pinnacle Airlines. When the company left Memphis in 2011, she decided to start her own business.
Since then, she has built up a strong clientele list catering to commercial accounts and selling hot prepared items as well as frozen and refrigerated dishes.
“We specialize in Southern soul to American traditional dishes,” said Thedford. “One of our biggest hits we’ve had recently is our braised beef with asiago grits topped with a seafood au gratin. We do a lot of blackened catfish with an andouille potato hash and a crawfish cream sauce.”
Other favorites include the pork loin, brisket, and a Creole macaroni and cheese with andouille sausage, crawfish, shrimp, and crabmeat.
Since she often caters lunches, there is a large demand for lighter versions of soul food and catering to her clients’ particular needs is central to her business philosophy.
“We put a twist on everything just to lighten it up so they can still enjoy their favorites, but with less calories and less guilt for what they’re eating,” said Thedford. “For example, instead of doing traditional red beans and rice, we do red lentils with a turkey andouille.”
“We’re always trying to sharpen our knives,” she said. “A catering company should cater to your desires, to your specific event, to what the people want. We don’t want to limit ourselves in what we do. We want to cater for everything.”
One of her larger and long-held clients is the National Civil Rights Museum.
“She’s creative and excited about food, and she makes you excited about food,” said Faith Morris, the museum’s chief marketing and external affairs officer. “She’s grown so much since I met her four years ago. Today, Tanacha is one our preferred caterers, and that’s because her food is high quality, she takes time to make sure everything is great, and she listens.”
The museum calls on Big Momma’s & Granny’s for small VIP events along with its grandest events like the Freedom Awards, which draws up to 2,000 guests annually, and this past April's MLK50 festivities, which drew around 1,500 dinner guests.
“Tanacha has such a great business mind,” said Morris. “She’s been a great asset to us, and we love working with her. She’s evolved into someone who’s as competitive as anyone in the city with her food, her menus, and the way she thinks about food and her clients.”
According to Morris, the caterer’s skill with preparing tastings for the museum’s major events has been another major plus of their partnership.
For the past three years, Thedford has operated her business out of a leased kitchen space at Unique Catering and Event Center in Bartlett. Her new, 1,100-square-foot space at 7546 Highway 70 in Bartlett will allow her to establish new regular customers.
“We want to bring a Big Momma and a Granny into homes throughout the community. We’re looking to have people coming in every day,” said Thedford. “You might want to add our macaroni and cheese or our broccoli casserole to your dishes that you’ve already prepared at home, or you can call us in advance and tell us about the dinner you want to have at home that night and we’ll have it ready by 6 p.m.”
Reconstruction is underway on the new location, in which new flooring, plumbing, and equipment will be installed.
To help with start-up costs, Thedford is seeking financial assistance from the newly formed $15 million Memphis Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund, managed by Pathway Lending. The fund focuses on minority- and women-owned businesses.
Thedford’s future plans for her business by setting up a nonprofit to serve as a meals-on-wheels type service to the needy in poverty-stricken areas of the Mid-South.