MOMO’s Café supports hungry scientists, engineers and administrators and receives mentoring in return
NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Executive Chef Martha Bennett decided to branch out from the corporate kitchen. Her passion for fresh and wholesome, southern-style food as well as knowledge of the average busy professional’s life led her to create MOMO’s Café and MOMO’s On the Go. Martha prides herself on supporting the essence of good food with quality– fresh ingredients, crowd-pleasing recipes, expert preparation, and, most importantly, quality time for what matters most.
Bennett brought her penchant for quality meals to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in 2019, opening her second location of MOMO’s at the lab’s existing Quark Café, offering events catering as well as on-site breakfast, lunch and snack options directly to the lab’s employees, contractors and vendors.
“A friend mentioned that Jefferson Lab was looking for a catering vendor, and I knew it would be a great partnership,” shared Bennett, owner and operator of MOMO’s Café. “The lab typically hosts hundreds of events throughout the year and I am able to bring my corporate background to support them.”
Shortly after setting up as the laboratory’s one-stop shop for fresh meals on-site and on-site catering, MOMO’s was selected to participate in DOE's Mentor-Protégé Program. Managed by DOE’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, the program helps increase participation and maximize opportunities for small businesses to work with the department.
The mentor-protégé program is locally administered by the Jefferson Lab Small Business Outreach program staff. The outreach program is award-winning and supports a wide-range of business efforts – from organizations building scientific equipment to lab product companies and now to catering and food service.
“The goal of our small business program is to integrate our services and move past the traditional contractor-sub relationship,” commented Josh Cameron, Jefferson Lab’s mentor for MOMO’s in the program. “We want to make our small business partners more successful by supporting their current efforts and opening additional doors.”
Martha and Josh work closely on marketing, communications and on-site operations in order to reach the entire lab community and help bolster the small business.
The mentorship couldn’t have come at a better time for the laboratory and for MOMO’s. It allowed both to nimbly adapt to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining vital food service options for the lab community and continuing business for MOMO’s. As the lab ceased most on-site operations in the spring, the partnership allowed the small business to make available an enhanced menu of take-and-heat options for lab staff.
“One of the worst things about take-out food is how soggy and lukewarm it gets on the ride home,” shared Bennett. “Convenience is important to busy professionals, but it’s my goal to make sure that flavor, healthfulness and structure aren’t sacrificed.”
Martha and her team craft healthy, soul-warming meals that staff can pick up and eat fresh for breakfast, lunch or snacking on campus or for heating up to eat at home. For example, those on campus can email in an order for that evening’s dinner based on a rotating weekly menu. Meals can be made for a single serving or all the way up to servings for a family of five. Each meal comes with specific heating instructions for warming it to perfection, while employees enjoy quality time with family.
Takeaway offerings provide a wide range of balanced flavor profiles, offering such delicacies as maple salmon with raspberry BBQ or citrusy lemon caper chicken. For each option it provides, MOMO’s removes the guesswork from cooking and always offers a constant variety.
“My favorite thing to do is to cook by the season, so the menu always reflects that,” said Bennett. “I source ingredients based on what is freshly available at the time, so you won’t see asparagus in the winter, but you will see homey and robust flavors of root vegetables and spices.”
The catering business at the lab has shifted in 2020, due to regulations and safety protocols. That hasn’t slowed down business for the Quark Café team, though.
“We have been able to package and provide meals for certain virtual events so that the shared experience of a meal hasn’t been lost through the pandemic,” shared Bennett.
MOMO’s has made custom-served take-and-heat and delivery meals, with dessert included, for several Jefferson Lab trainings, ceremonies and celebrations.
“Having Martha and her team supporting the lab through on-site, takeaway and delivered meals has been a great value to us,” said Jami Anthony, Jefferson Lab’s Small Business liaison. “It has been a mutually beneficial partnership, and we are looking forward to helping Martha with more of her business goals.”
Regular strategy meetings and goal-setting sessions are a key component of the small business program. For example, MOMO’s would like to enhance their community outreach and better provide services for corporate clients. Both goals have support of the Jefferson Lab team.
“We’re able to make connections with professionals and provide support so that the experience of business isn’t so isolated,” said Cameron. “We certainly help with marketing within the lab’s community, but we also provide opportunities, guidance and support for larger efforts.”
MOMO’s Café has been a participant in the small business protégé program since summer of 2019. The program has shifted due to COVID-19 requirements, and the team anticipates that MOMO’s will be in the program through the end of 2021.
The MOMO’s Café rotating menu can be found online. Special seasonally appropriate dishes and desserts are available throughout the year. Even though the Quark Café is not open to the public, MOMO’s delicious offerings are also available at MOMO’s City Center location, 11801 Canon Blvd in Newport News and by visiting http://www.momoscaf.com.
The Jefferson Lab Small Business Outreach program welcomes small businesses who are interested in partnering with Jefferson Lab. To learn more about the program or to inquire about participating, visit the website or contact Jami Anthony.
By Jessica Bedenbaugh
*picture taken early 2020