Being at home in Momma’s Kitchen


Marjorie Otto/Review • DeMarco Cavil, an East Sider turned professional chef, is returning to his childhood home to open a restaurant, Momma’s Kitchen, dedicated to his mother. The restaurant will have a soft opening on June 7 and will be located at 1058 Maryland Ave. E.

For DeMarco Cavil, coming home and opening a restaurant on the East Side is a dream come true. 

“It feels so great,” Cavil said of opening a restaurant in the neighborhood where he grew up.

He and two friends, Hamza Muridi and Wintana Melekin, are opening a restaurant called Momma’s Kitchen, which Cavil named to honor his mother, who inspired him to become a chef. The restaurant will have a soft opening June 7.

All three friends grew up on the East Side. Muridi is a business owner himself, and Melekin is a community activist, who was recently elected to the Payne-Phalen Community Council. 

The restaurant will be located at 1058 Maryland Ave. E. in the original location of East Side Pizzeria, which is now located on Payne Avenue. 

A life-long dream

“Growing up I always wanted to own my own restaurant,” said Cavil, who has spent the last 13 years as a professional chef cooking for a variety of professional sports teams. He’s cooked for the Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves, the Miami Marlins and the Houston Astros. He also served as the sous chef for the St. Paul Saints. 

Cavil said he is putting that side of his career on hold to start Momma’s Kitchen.

“One thing my mom always wanted was her own restaurant,” he said. 

His mother passed away seven years ago and he said one of her wishes was that he open his own restaurant. 

“Why not pay homage to her?” Cavil said of choosing the name. 

He said he spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her while growing up, watching her prepare meals. He added that his mother taught him many of his cooking skills, including one of the most important ones: putting love into every meal.

“It doesn’t matter if Barack Obama comes walking through the door or the guy from the grocery store down the street,” Cavil said, pointing out that no matter who he’s preparing a meal for, his goal is always to make the best meal they’ve ever had. 

Cavil grew up on the East Side, joking that he probably went to every elementary school in the neighborhood. He graduated from Johnson High School, working while going to school. He got his first cooking job on Payne Avenue at the now-gone Embers restaurant. Initially he was hired to wash dishes, but when the restaurant was short on cooking staff, Cavil was asked if he could cook. 

“I’ve been on the line ever since,” he said. 

Cavil spent several years working at various venues in the Twin Cities. That work had him making meals for people like Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Muhammad Ali.

He also spent some time cooking at Swede Hollow Cafe in Dayton’s Bluff. 

“I could have easily opened up a restaurant elsewhere,” Cavil said, mentioning places like Florida or Atlanta, where he has lived and worked in the past, but he said it just wouldn’t have had the same feeling as opening up a place on the East Side. 

 

Family-feel

Momma’s Kitchen will serve comfort food — items like fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens — food that make you feel at home, Cavil said. 

He added that the restaurant will have a family feel with bench seating and plenty of tables for families to sit down and enjoy a meal together. Cavil said the restaurant will also offer take-out and catering. 

But Cavil doesn’t just plan on cooking food; he plans on establishing a mentorship program through his restaurant, connecting with kids from local neighborhoods to help give them a leg up in employment and an opportunity to try out cooking.

Cavil said he had a lot of mentors during his 13-year cooking career, but one thing that wasn’t common when he was growing up was having black-owned businesses to look up to.

Coming back to the neighborhood and being a person of color starting a business, he hopes he can serve that role for kids growing up in the same neighborhood he did. 

Cavil said he wants to be able to give local kids a chance to start building a resume and to give them a different outlet besides video games or being bored on the street. 

He also has three kids of his own and several nieces and nephews. He said he hopes this restaurant will be somewhere for them to learn about hard work, but also have it be something to pass on. 

“It feels like I have the whole East Side rooting for me,” Cavil said. 

Momma’s Kitchen will have a soft opening and block party on June 7 with samples from the menu available and a visit from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. 

For updates on the restaurant follow it on Facebook by searching for “Momma’s Kitchen.”

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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