MaryAnn Strange's Southern cuisine is a feast for the eyes – and tastes good, too
“I really feel like if you walk in your purpose, nothing will stand in your way to do what you’re called to do.”
MaryAnn Strange has always been interested in cooking. When she was in college, she would call her mom and dad and ask them how they prepared her favorite Southern dishes. Then she’d put her own spin on them.
“I wanted to cook food that I loved, and then I wanted to see if other people would love it, too.”
After being laid off from her corporate job of 10 years in 2017, MaryAnn decided to turn her passion for cooking into a business. She started testing out her recipes on family and friends who she knew would give honest feedback. They liked what they tasted and helped spread the word. The food not only tasted good, but it looked good, too.
“I’m a visual person. I’ve always appreciated how chefs would plate food and make it look really tasty. If something looks good, you’re more willing to try it.”
MaryAnn took photos of her plated meals and shared them on Facebook. The mouth-watering images gave her best friend an idea – an idea that ultimately inspired the name of MaryAnn’s restaurant.
“My best friend came to me one day and said, ‘I’m trying to impress this guy, and I can’t cook greens and some of the other foods you’ve been posting, so I really want you to cook it for me, and I’ll serve it to him.’”
It worked. He was amazed with the food, and although her best friend took credit for preparing that particular meal, MaryAnn was encouraged by the feedback from a stranger. She launched her catering business in 2018 and named it “Your Girlfriend Best Friend Kitchen,” or YGFBFKitchen for short.
“Every best friend needs a girlfriend that can cook,” she said. “It was my pleasure to ‘lend’ my passion for cooking Southern, home-cooked meals to people like my best friend who love those foods but don’t enjoy being in the kitchen themselves.”
Eventually MaryAnn had the opportunity to cater a wedding that had a guest list of 150 people, which was far bigger than any event she had catered. Her attention to detail and eye-popping presentation caused even more people to take notice and request her catering services. She thought about what it would be like to bring her food to more people, more often, and found an affordable trailer in Georgia that she could outfit as a food truck.
The YBFBFKitchen food truck opened for business in June 2019. It was wildly successful, and her catering business also had started to increase. In early 2020, MaryAnn began looking into opening a restaurant. Kim Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, helped her find a space downtown, and YGFBFKitchen restaurant opened at 812 Chestnut Street in the summer of 2020.
“Ever since we opened up in June, we have been blessed with so much support.”
Eventually she opened on Saturdays, and customers came from Benton, Russellville, Hot Springs, Bryant, Little Rock, and the surrounding area. One customer drove 85 miles to try her food. She quickly realized she needed a bigger space.
On March 15, 2021, YGFBFKitchen will open for curbside delivery in its new location at 800 4th Avenue. Dine-in operations will begin on April 1. MaryAnn also plans to extend YGFBFKitchen’s hours to include dinner and will open on Saturdays beginning in May.
“I really feel like if you walk in purpose, nothing will stand in your way to do what you’re called to do. It seems like ever since I’ve been doing what I love to do, everything I’ve done has been a blessing.”
Q&A with MaryAnn Strange, owner of YGFBFKitchen
If you could recommend one menu item to someone who has never been to your restaurant, what would it be?
MaryAnn: I’d recommend our Favorites Tasting Box. It includes one of our very first menu items that we did in our food truck, our Cajun Smothered Shrimp & Grits, which were a big hit. It also includes our Blackened Cajun Chicken Alfredo and a Cajun Alfredo Steak Melt. It’s a blend of different but familiar flavors, and you get a taste of everything that we offer in the restaurant.
Any exciting future plans?
MaryAnn: Of course, the most exciting is that we are moving to a new space, but I also plan to bottle and sell our alfredo sauce in local stores and in the restaurant. I’m also developing a cookbook!
The Conway Convention & Visitors Bureau is celebrating the inaugural Conway Black Restaurant Week during the last week of Black History Month. From February 21-27, 2021, the Conway CVB will bring attention to Conway's Black-owned restaurants and introduce you to some of the people behind them.