Sue Thomas knows her way around a kitchen, having first stepped foot in one as a toddler to help prepare dinner with her family.
“Since I was 3 years old I can remember standing at a stove helping cook,” she said.
Thomas, a New York native, quickly fell in love with the trade and would go on to work in the food industry over the next few decades. After moving to Spartanburg, she’d also cut her teeth in restaurant management.
Today, Thomas has channeled her passion into preparing home-cooked meals for others and encouraging family time around the dinner table, no matter how busy people are.
In August 2016, Thomas founded Mama Sue’s Homemade Help, a meal prep business offering weekly menus featuring breakfast, lunch, dinner and, occasionally, dessert items. Thomas also provides some of the items for special catered events.
Thomas’s inspiration came from her two sons who are school teachers that often visited a drive thru for family dinners.
“It was 9 p.m. by the time they’d get home after running from baseball, football, cheerleading or whatever the case may be. And they just could not keep up,” Thomas said. “I thought it would be a really good idea for teachers to have home-cooked meals. And that’s what started Mama Sue’s.”
Thomas initially launched her business in her home kitchen, but then moved into a full industrial kitchen inside Grace Church which is located behind the Westside Club in Spartanburg.
There, she and two assistants whip up plates of chimichangas stuffed with chicken; bowls of creamy bacon-corn chowder; containers of BLT pasta salad; and pans of Mama’s Apple Delights – baked tortillas stuffed with cinnamon apples.
The meals are prepared from scratch using as much organic and fresh ingredients as possible, Thomas said.
“We experiment with a lot of recipes, but there are also a lot of family recipes passed down,” she said. “There are some things I’ve tried in the past that have always stuck with me or my kids have said I have to make again.”
Courtney Story, who has a degree in culinary arts, said working in Mama Sue’s kitchen with Thomas has been a fun experience.
“You get to be creative with Sue, and she loves creativity,” Story said.
Some of the more popular items include Mexican dishes, Italian foods, chicken and dumplings and the bacon-corn chowder.
Once the meals are prepared and fully cooked, they are frozen in oven-safe pans and topped with instructions about reheating the food in the oven.
“People are always shocked that everything is homemade,” said Laura Starkes, who also works in the Mama Sue’s kitchen. “I love to cook and bake and that’s what got me started. I love it here; you get the freedom to make your own desserts.”
Thomas posts weekly menus on Mama Sue’s Facebook page. Orders are prepared at the beginning of each week and clients pick up or have meals delivered on Thursdays.
Individual meals are $8 and meals for two to four people are $15 each. Larger meals that serve four to six people are $25 each.
Thomas also makes a variety of handheld items for work or school lunches. These items are six for $10.
“I cater those to the woman or man who’s going to work every day, or now that school started, I do handhelds for the kids like turkey and cheddar sandwiches,” she said.
Since starting the business, Thomas said no weekly menu has been the same and word has quickly spread. On average, 12-15 clients are added to her order list each week, she said.
“You can do one day a week or all week. We have people weekly that go through the whole menu and have a meal for every day of the week,” Thomas said.
The majority of clients using Mama Sue’s are teachers, nurses, and families with young kids. She also receives orders from young couples looking to save time and money on meals.
“The business has definitely grown in a year so I know it’s going to keep on growing,” Thomas said. “I like the idea of family and the idea of sitting down and eating dinner together.”