Like so many people do, Sommer Cooper knew she needed to make changes in her life. After years of dedication to both, she found herself in an unhappy marriage and miserable in a corporate customer service job dealing with unsatisfied customers.
“It was past time to make some changes,” said Cooper, who is otherwise known as Momma Shay. “I got out of the marriage and got fired from the job — that changed my life sure enough. I had daughters to take care of and I had to make something happen.”
Make something happen she did.
Cooper said she never considered finding another customer service position because she wanted to make a different, and better, life for her and her three daughters. She had a couple of month’s savings to keep a roof over their heads and figure out her next move.
“I’ve always loved cooking and felt I had a talent for it,” she said. “So, I started cooking and baking for friends and family. That helped but wasn’t enough to pay all our bills.”
She had driven past the shopping center located at 917 N. Wilkinson St. many times and saw that a space had recently opened for rent. She said she just knew she couldn’t afford it, but believed God was urging her to stop and inquire. As her luck would have it, she could afford the rent and her dream of owning a restaurant — one that bears her nickname — would materialize.
“It took every single dime I had to keep us afloat and open the restaurant at the same time. It took over two months and several permits from the city to be able to serve that very first meal, and I wasn’t sure if we could do it, but so far it has been nothing but a true blessing for my girls and me,” she said.
Momma Shay’s Kitchen opened in June and has seen a steady stream of customers frequent the down-home restaurant with many becoming loyal patrons spreading the word about the excellent food served with love.
“I really enjoy coming to eat here and visit many times a week because the food is so good and tastes like cooking from home,” said local businessman Marcus Havior. “I have also helped spread the word around town about how great the food is at Momma Shay’s and brought many first-time customers to eat.”
A unique aspect to this seafood and soul food restaurant is Cooper’s ever-present daughters, oldest Skakori Grace, middle daughter Dawnelle Cooper, and the youngest, Tamia Cooper. Grace moved from Texas to help her mom to get the business off the ground and make it a success.
“I was working on getting the site cleaned up, and I saw someone walking across the parking lot, and I said to myself that she looks a lot like my daughter Skakori, and it was,” said Cooper. “I had no idea she was planning even to visit much less move here to help her sisters and me with the business.”
Cooper prides herself on putting love and goodness into every bite of food that is served and said that the portions are generous so that no one leaves hungry. She is originally from Miami but grew up traveling all over the world in a military family. Multicultural and international cuisine has influenced her palate as much as her grandmother’s south Florida cooking.
“I learned to cook from my soul like my grandmother, Leola Langston, did,” she said. “We are a mixture of Blackfoot Indian, Bahamian, Jamaican, and of course, African-American. It all has influenced how we cook and feed people.”
Mama Shay’s soul food menu changes daily, and they serve all-day breakfast as well as seafood. Offerings can include meatloaf, loaded potato with chicken, shrimp or beef, Cajun pasta, shrimp and grits, baked chicken, salmon patties, an assortment of salads and sandwiches and banana pudding and peach cobbler for desserts. Side dishes include corn, green beans, greens, mac and cheese, and rice and gravy. The seafood menu includes stuffed salmon, peel and eat shrimp, a shrimp boil, a seafood boil, and lobster boil.
Cooper said that everything is cooked to order and that requires at least a 30 minute wait time. She suggests calling ahead and placing an order if time is a factor when dining at Mama Shay’s Kitchen. Delivery and catering are also available.
While you wait, you will more than likely be treated to a show tune or movie song being sung beautifully from the kitchen by Cooper’s daughters and kitchen manager Danelle Reeves — a lovely way to pass the time.
“I just want everyone to know how blessed I feel to be so welcomed into the food scene of Milledgeville. I am a foodie and having my restaurant become a success is wonderful, but, being an example to my daughters and showing them they can work hard to be their own boss is the greatest blessing of all.”