2001-01-28 Lakeshore Press A sure-fire recipe for success-Ma B's and the spirit of unity

A sure-fire recipe for success-Ma B’s and the spirit of unity
Lakeshore Press

Magdalene Hollis and Benito Ordonez dream of creating the perfect signature dish, some unique blend of soul and salsa. “I don’t know what it is,” says Ordonez, “but you’ll know when we come up with it.” And when they do, it’ll be good. It’ll be like their restaurant that already offers the vest dishes from both their traditions, where the menu goes way beyond Arkansas soul and Tex-Mex tang to include a heaping helping of cross-cultural understanding.

Hollis is the “Ma” and Ordonez is the “B” in Ma B’s Kitchen, a restaurant that opened three months ago in Washington Square. They call it the “Home of MexArkana Soul,” a name they cooked up to describe the melting pot of flavors they bring from their respective cultures. “MexArkana Soul is where the soul of Southern fried chicken, collard greens and corn bread meet up with the lively spirit of fajitas and sizzling barbecue grilled ribs,” the menu says. “We just call it a feelin.”

A lot of soul in all senses of the word flavors Ma B’s. “I think God put this in our hands,” Ordonez says, explaining how he and Hollis got paired up in the restaurant business. We sit at one of the small tables, where I’d just chewed through a half slab of ribs finer than any I’ve found in fancier restaurants.

A roller coaster

“Dave Kool at Jubilee Ministries, he asked me, then asked Maggie. Maggie had to pray about it. When we decided it’s been a roller coaster ever since, non-stop,” Ordonez explains. “God is busy here on this corner,” Hollis says. Every so often, she’ll come from behind the counter and share her faith, Ordonez says. “I look at it like; I’m gaining a business as well as getting closer to God.”

Faith is a major ingredient at the restaurant helped by Jubilee, an outreach of Maple Avenue Ministries. “Sometimes I look out that window and wonder, what am I here for? But I really feel God has a reason for being here,” Hollis says. She was retired after 24 years with Grand Rapids Public Schools when she came to Holland to work a prayer ministry at Maple Avenue. Ordonez was looking for a new job when he came five years ago from Texas.

To Ma B’s, Hollis brings the food culture from her childhood as a sharecropper’s daughter in the cotton fields across the Mississippi from Memphis. Ordonez brings the festive flavors from the border town of McAllen, Texas. They share recipes as well as faith. “She learned how to make enchiladas and tacos, and I learned how to make fried chicken and collard greens,” Ordonez says. “I’m working on yams.”

Soul food came from slaves and sharecroppers learning to live on leftovers after the best stuff were taken “Food from the soul,” Hollis explains. “These old mothers would cook it up and it tasted good.” She says Mexican food has soul, too, that touch of heart and hands.

Both partners lament mixes and fast foods. “People don’t cook from the soul; people don’t cook from the heart,” Hollis says. So everything at Ma B’s is from scratch. Just fresh foods, excellent seasoning and caring hands. Plus a whole lot of praying stirred in.

Fresh foods and dreams

One dream Hollis credits to Kool-to get minority people started in business, to have Holland residents see minority people in a business setting. Another is the same dream Martin Luther King Jr. described years ago: “My dream was to see this community come together and get the cultures get to know each other, and get to understanding each other,” Hollis says. “That’s my dream.”

Ordonez dreams of a deck outside, to expand their limited dining space, and of more: “I can’t wait ‘til summer. We can go out there and see a whole bunch of kids. Black kids, white kids, Mexican kid, Asian kids, out there eating. That would make my day, to be able to see ‘em all just sitting around eating.”

The Ottawa Area Summit on Racism offers a similar dream. It needs all sorts of people to join in Feb. 13. And to learn about each other’s past and present. To learn how some are insulted and some insult. How some suffer and some are blessed. To learn how to get to know each other, it’ll be good to join in, to help cook up a “prejudice-free Ottawa.” And it’s good, too, to see how Ma B’s has a start on that recipe: Breaking cornbread together, testing that signature dish that blends the best of both cultures; sharing recipes for food and life. Sharing some soul.

For registration forms for The Ottawa Area Summit on Racism, call 846-9074 or go to www.ethnicdiversity.org. For a fine taste of soul, visit 208 W. 18th St. in Holland or call 396-8343 for take-out.