Lil Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy founder Tiffany Pauldon-Banks was looking to sell the restaurant she had created in order to spend her time mentoring prospective female entrepreneurs.
Michael and Kori Ellis were looking to buy a business in Chattanooga in order to be closer to their daughter and her family. The couple had lived previously in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where they had worked in education.
A broker put the two together, and today the Ellises are the new owners of the eatery on Patten Square. Michael Ellis said in a telephone interview that Pauldon-Banks will still be involved in the restaurant.
"Tiffany is Lil Mama, and we are working with her desire to continue a relationship," Ellis said. "She'll be around, and right now she and the staff are training us and teaching us the culture of Lil Mama's."
Ellis said neither he nor his wife have any real experience in the restaurant business, and they were not necessarily looking for an eatery when they approached a broker about finding a business to buy.
"We wanted to find a business that was already active in the community and one that loves its community, and we clicked with Tiffany right away," he said.
According to a news release, Pauldon-Banks got the idea of opening a hoagy shop in the fall of 2019 and after formulating a business plan, she started selling her hoagies out of her home kitchen and began looking for storefront locations and conceptualized what her brand would look and feel like.
She told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a 2021 interview that she and her husband, Joe, moved here with their son, Jaelen, in 2017. She said then that it was a friend of her son who planted the idea of actually opening a restaurant. Friends used to look forward to visiting her house because of the food she cooked.
Since it opened Jan. 16, 2021, Lil Mama's has been featured in publications such as "Eater Nashville" which named it one of the "20 Essential Bars and Restaurants in Chattanooga" and by "StyleBlueprint" which called it one of "12 New Reasons to Visit Chattanooga".
Pauldon-Banks said she hopes to share her experiences opening and running Lil Mama's with other entrepreneurs. She said the decision to sell the restaurant was the natural progression for her entrepreneurial journey.
"To me, this is a success story," Pauldon-Banks said in the release.
"I conceptualized and opened a business in the middle of a pandemic, and other people were able to see the vision and have supported us in so many ways," she said. "I can't even begin to express what the support from the Chattanooga community has meant to me and continues to mean to me. I am so thankful for this journey, and I can't wait to share what I've learned through this experience and help other people break through barriers."
She added that she appreciated the enthusiasm of the Ellises to carry the mission for Lil Mama's forward. Kori Ellis said it is their goal to carry on the work Pauldon-Banks has started.
"We are so excited to continue being able to follow Lil Mama's legacy of serving every sandwich with love and giving every customer a 5-star experience," she said. "We look forward to the opportunity to engage with the Chattanooga community and give back to this city. That is going to be a top priority for us."
The Ellises celebrated 30 years of marriage in June. Both have master's degrees in educational leadership. They plan to share responsibilities in running the restaurant. Michael Ellis will be focusing on community relations, internal relations and development, with Kori Ellis focusing on business operations.
"We will be very hands on," he said. "We want to grow the business, and part of that means being here and supporting the staff. They are the pros, and I'll do whatever I can to help. Today, it was slicing meat, and other days it has been cleaning bathrooms."