Harrisburg eatery gets national spotlight

Cris Collingwood//March 28, 2023

Harrisburg eatery gets national spotlight

Cris Collingwood//March 28, 2023

Jennifer Stretch, right, and her mother, MaryJane Smith prepare for their debut on America’s Best Restaurants’ Roadshow – PHOTO/PROVIDED

America’s Best Restaurants’ Roadshow is coming to Harrisburg April 10. 

The show will feature Harrisburg’s Joe Mama’s Kitchen and Catering, which not only offers home cooked meals, but provides free food for people in need.  

America’s Best Restaurants, a national media and marketing company focusing on local, independently owned restaurants, said popular dishes will be highlighted, along with an extensive on-camera interview with owner Jennifer Stretch about the restaurant’s special place in the community. The episode will be aired on social media channels at a later date. 

Stretch, who said her drive to succeed is one of the reasons her restaurant was selected, said she applied to be on the show when she saw an advertisement for it on social media. 

“I started a couple of times until I got it right,” the single mom of foster children said. “I had a food truck 13 years ago that failed within a year and then started a restaurant with a partner in 2015.” 

Stretch said her partner soon realized the restaurant business wasn’t for her, so she moved The Lost Eatery to a new location. After her brother died suddenly at age 39, she said things fell apart and she closed the restaurant. 

But she wasn’t done. With $3,000 in her bank to run the restaurant and her home, Stretch opened Jo Mamas and Catering.  

The restaurant is named after her brother, Joseph Allen Stretch III. His portrait hangs in the dining area along with his favorite saying, “Go Be Great!”   

Stretch continues her brother’s commitment to the community including giving food to the less fortunate.  The restaurant has old newspaper dispensers in the parking lot that they use as a food pantry for people in need, America’s Best Restaurants said.  

Although most items in the dispensers are non-perishable, in the winter Stretch adds meals and soups and then posts on social media to ensure people can get hot food. 

Stretch said, in addition to drumming up business, she hopes the show will people they don’t have to have everything lined up before starting a venture. 

“My story is the opposite. I had nothing together, but I have drive,” she said. “I hope people will be encouraged to go for it.” 

 Popular menu items that Stretch may feature on the episode include the Richie Rich sandwich, named after a long-time customer, which is a fried fish on Texas toast with egg and cheese, or the Joe’s Got Beef, which is eggs, beef sausage, cheese, eggs, smothered onions and ‘mama’s mustard’ on a bagel.  

“We make everything homemade,” she said, including the condiments. “We always have fresh soups too.” 

 In addition to running the restaurant with her mother, Jane Smith, Stretch also is a single mother who fosters children, something she says was a dream of her father’s.  

 “I have a passion for trying to teach each [child] that their trauma doesn’t have to be the deciding factor of where life takes them,” she said.  

The restaurant at 2233 Derry St. is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Beginning in April, the restaurant will be open from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. for take-out and delivery. They plan to open an “ice cream shed” this summer with ice creams and Italian ices for sale.  

 America’s Best Restaurants will be filming on location on April 10th. Joe Mama’s finished episode premiere date will be announced on their Facebook page and will be featured on America’s Best Restaurants’ website at https://americasbestrestaurants.com/rests/pennsylvania/joe-mamas-kitchen-and-catering