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Pasadena’s Big Mama’s Rib Shack Reportedly Closing After 17 Years

Published on Monday, July 1, 2019 | 5:03 am

Big Mama’s Rib Shack, a family-owned and operated restaurant and catering company that’s been in Pasadena for 17 years, is closing next month, according to a local media report.

Owners Darron and Dargetta McWhorter, children of the founder Dargin McWhorther, lost the lease to the property and will need to close the restaurant by July 20, according to a report in the Sierra Madre Weekly.

The McWhorters are hoping to find a kitchen from where they could fill catering orders, the report said.

The restaurant got its name from Big Mama Emma Sue Miller McWhorter, who was born in Burda, Georgia, just outside of Griffin, south of Atlanta. Big Mama and husband James “Candy Jim” McWhorter migrated north to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she started operating restaurants.

Big Mama and her two youngest children, Sam and Pat, later joined her son Dargin who had moved to Pasadena in 1956 in pursuit of a professional boxing career.

In 1970, Dargin and his wife Anita opened Emma Sue’s Fish and BBQ on Fair Oaks Avenue in Altadena, then opened in the early 80s in Old Town Pasadena, on Colorado Blvd. between Fair Oaks Avenue and Raymond Street.

Got Used Oil

With Big Mama coaching from the sidelines, Dargin McWhorter, with the support of wife Anita and children Dewayne, Dargin Jr., Dargetta, d’Artagnan, Darron, Demetrius and Deeana opened Big Mama’s Cooking, Inc. on March 7, 1992 in Las Vegas, between Tropicana and Flamingo, later moving to Bonanza Road.

On September 20, 2002, Darron, Dargetta, and other partners opened the Pasadena restaurant on North Lake Avenue that used to house another famous restaurant, Gianones Steak House.

Since then, Big Mama’s has been known for their flavor-filled rack of ribs, with a secret barbecue sauce which Dargin McWhorter said was used by his favorite barbecue place when he was in grade school.

His wife Anita perfected the tangy-flavored barbeque sauce recipe and also brought back all of Big Mama’s original recipes. Anita still talks about how Big Mama taught her about the family recipes that their customers have loved over the years.

Big Mama’s is at 1453 N. Lake Avenue in Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 797-1792 or visit

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