Saturday was not just the beginning of a new month, but also a ‘fresh’ start for a new restaurant venture inside of Eli Fish Brewing Company.
Her nearly two decades of cooking, more than three years of catering, and popping up at various summer events have propelled Dannielle Lumpkin into her own niche as Mama Dee’z Kitchen at 109 Main St., Batavia.
“We did a test run yesterday where we did a soft opening, and that went very, very well. Just learning the ins and outs, from catering to being a restaurant owner, is a big, big difference. But we've had a lot of support from our kitchen staff here, the head chef here, Sam has been very helpful. Matty has been very helpful with anything that I needed to know. And it's just a learning experience. I'm very excited for what the future holds for us,” Lumpkin said during her grand opening Saturday.
“So right before COVID we had started the process of looking for a building, and then COVID was here. A lot of it was really rough. And so once things started getting better, it was that time, I felt, for me to try to find something to open up with. Batavia doesn't really have a lot of diversity when it comes to options for food, and I wanted to be able to bring that to Batavia. So I think that this is going to be a staple in Batavia, because we can offer a different choice of food from different cultures.”
As friends and family poured into the back area where Mama Dee’z is located at Eli Fish, Lumpkin and her staff of family members pulled golden brown fried chicken from a pan to serve. Her specialties are jerk-laced meats, homemade sauces, Caribbean and soul food flavors, but with an expansive menu that also includes a shaved ribeye steak, mixed cheeses, peppers and onion wrapped in an egg roll wrapper appetizer, Caribbean alfredo pasta with chicken or shrimp, macaroni and cheese, sweet bread, and a chicken wing dinner.
The Batavia resident had her eye on Eli Fish some time ago, since it has already served successfully as incubator space for three others, including Eden Cafe & Bakeshop, Eat Well Grill and Matty’s Pizza. The incubator concept was first developed in the late 1950s at Harvester Center in Batavia, and has been a more recent venture for downtown. Lumpkin had to purchase her inventory of food and supplies, however, the kitchen was ready to go with equipment and appliances.
It would have been much more cost prohibitive for her to do it all on her own, entrepreneur and Eli Fish co-owner Matt Gray said.
“It's a second generation restaurant coming in, she's coming into the spot that Eden cafe was in, and successfully transferred over into downtown Ellicott Street and Liberty. So it's great to also offer the same space again to another entrepreneur/restauranteur to add to the business here. Because of the menu, diversity always helps,” Gray said.
“For a very, very small amount of money upfront, they're able to come in and really go after their dream, where normally would cost upwards of more than six figures, to buy your equipment and everything that you need to get stocked up. Here, it's really very minimal," he said. "And they're able to come in for a shorter period of time, work out what their business plan is, work out what kind of food they really want to serve, what their guests are looking for, and hopefully make that leap to another brick and mortar location on their own.”
Lumpkin has signed a deal for six months, and will be open the same hours as Eli Fish: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
While preparing for the big day of ribbon-cutting and celebrating her dream come true, Lumpkin served her food to Eli Fish staff, which was “fantastic,” Gray said. It adds “another level of service” for the brewery, he said. And while the Lumpkin family, which includes husband Myron, continues to strengthen their business, Gray and other staff members are available for advice, suggestions and feedback.
“We work together as much as we can,” he said.
Business Improvement District Executive Director Shannon Maute and Chamber of Commerce Interim Director Tom Turnbull were also on hand with congratulations and praise for adding another establishment downtown.
“This really evolved out of the Fresh Lab experiment they did a few years ago where we had a couple of successful restaurants come out of here … And this is just the next extension," Turnbull said. "I had a chance to meet with Dannielle and Myron, and the food looks fantastic. I can't wait to try it. It's something unique and I think that brings a different flavor, no pun intended, to downtown Batavia and Genesee County. It's great to see another restaurant open up. And it's such a great opportunity here to do it as an incubator restaurant where you don't have all the expenses of a full-blown restaurant, but you can learn, and under Matt Gray, take advantage of that.”
Maute has gotten to know Dannielle and has learned of her determination, energy and creative culinary skills. Not only has Dannielle now placed another restaurant on the downtown map, but she has joined BID committees and is “a great addition to BID,” Maute said.
“I’m just here to support Danny and her adventure … This is huge for BID, it is something so different. We've never had it before, and to have this quality of food and the style of food is going to do really well. Batavia really is changing, and this just goes with the times,” Maute said. “And now you can come downtown and get different food, and you're not getting the same cookie-cutter food. Eli Fish was one of the first people that did that with their different style of foods. So Mama Dee’z fits right in with the different style of foods. She's determined she's going to do well. I have no doubt that she's going to really do well here and then, eventually, we'll help her get into a brick and mortar.”
For prior coverage:
Top Photo: Dannielle Lumpkin, with husband Myron, and their family, celebrate the ribbon-cutting of Mama Dee'z Saturday inside Eli Fish Brewing Company at 109 Main St., Batavia; Dannielle gets ready to serve up some chicken; showing off the new Mama Dee'z logo. Photos by Joanne Beck.