Mama Jo is NYC’s Official Grandmother of Breakfast – Street Food Icons

-My kids, they think I’m crazy. They think,
“Ma, when are you gonna stop?” No, I’m not gonna stop. I’m the oldest vender
in New York City vending. There could be other people
where the sons and the daughters took over. It’s just me. If I die, it dies with me. That’s how it goes, you know? ♪♪ My name is Joanna Despas. They call me Mama Jo. I run Mama Jo’s
Breakfast Cart, yeah. I was doing this for 35 years,
maybe more. It was no breakfast carts in
the city at the time I started. Now we have, like, 3,000. Breakfast Cart sells, usually,
you know, bagels and doughnuts
and muffins and Danishes. But I do beyond that. I have all kinds of omelets
and all kinds of eggs and I made Greek food, and I make spanikopita,
olive bread. I make baklava. I do all kinds of ice coffees,
cappuccinos, Frappuccinos. I do everything. My most popular is spanikopita
and bacon, egg, and cheese. I didn’t go to any other corner
for all these years. 47th and Park —
that’s where you find me. My customers, they’re my jewels.
[ Laughs ] They are. You become involved
with the families and the kids
and everything, yeah. They call me Mama Jo,
and they mean it. I’m telling you,
they give me the name. My name, it was Joanna
from the beginning, and then Jo. And then it became Mama Jo. I said, “Do you want me
to add ‘Grandma Jo’s’ now?” [ Laughs ]
So, the young kids, you know, they come from all over
the United States, and they work in banks
and law firms and everything. You know, they not know
too many people here. So, it’s good to know somebody,
a friendly face. And they appreciate it. And you can ask them, too. It’s not my word. Today is your birthday? Don’t give me the five bucks,
this is on me! -Thank you.
-You want me to sing for you? [ Both laugh ] -One time, I remember
I was coming, they go, “Where’s Mama Jo? Mama Jo’s not here today?” [ Laughs ]
You know? I said, “What happened, guys,
if I get a little old?” They said, “Mama Jo,
you sit in the chair, and we’ll make the coffee. But you be here, right?”
Right. I was born in the north
of Greece, a little town called Pyloroi. The time I’m born, 1951, it was not that easy years,
you know? Kids go to school,
and they come home, and they go to the fields. I was 7 years old
working the fields — Cotton and tobacco
and a lot of things. I came here 1968. I moved to America for a better
future, for a better life. I love this country, yes. I’m here so many years. I came here with nothing —
no money. Absolutely nothing. I started from zero. And I put kids through college,
and I bought a home. If you want to do things,
you can do it in this country. I don’t see you back there. -Like me. -“I’m here!”
[ Laughs ] -Okay, take care. Oh, my goodness. Every day, you hear a story. I wake up 11:45,
I leave my house 12 midnight. And I go to
my fruit stand 12:30. What is this?
-I know. -From Peru?
-Yeah. -Okay.
Avocado from Peru. I go to the fruit market
every morning. Every day is fresh, what we
sell, you know, at the stand. [ Speaking foreign language ] We’re gonna go now to a place
where I park my push cart. Yeah, honestly, probably, oh… three and a half,
four hours every day. I get up, and I’m up. People, they say, “How you
do it? You’re 68 years old.” I guess I came from good genes,
you know? Then I go 1:00 to my commissary
and pick up my cart from there. This is my menu. Like, if you go
to a breakfast restaurant, I have more stuff
than what they have in the menu. At 2:07, my driver
is gonna come. And then he’s gonna
take this to my spot. -I know. Ooh. I’m gonna give him a ticket. Here’s my driver.
Mohammed’s a great guy. He’s from Africa. He’s such a great guy. The city never sleeps. Never sleeps. Then I come here around 2:00. Hey, babe! -You gonna help me here? -Ah, thank you very much. He doesn’t do it for anybody
else, only for me, right, babe? [ Laughs ] Everything comes here
delivered to me. My eggs — fresh — and my milk
comes every day here. 4:00 I put the grill on. Hello, guys!
Hi. -Good morning.
-Okay. I’m gonna get a little busy now. ♪♪ -Oh, you do? That’s because
they’re filming today. -Oh.
-That’s why! -I like it.
-Thank you, sweetheart. -Here you go.
-Thank you, man. -Can we take a picture?
-Yes! Yes! Of course, here!
Todooli, come here. Here’s my Todooli.
Take my Todooli. Yeah! Sausage, egg, and cheese. What, I’m gonna make it
on a roll for you. I put the cheese here, and then I put this one on top
so it can melt it. So, then we put this here. And then if you want salt,
pepper, ketchup, whatever. I like pepper. Though this one is
a little spicy, you know. And I’m gonna
put a little sriracha. You know? Like a little Sriracha, okay. Close it up, and then I give it
a nice cut like this. And a little oop! That’s it. And then you eat it. Toasted! Toasted! Toasted bagel!
Your bagel. -All right, thank you.
-And I could write a book. I have stories, and I
have a photos that — I don’t forget anything. The book is gonna call
“47 and Park.” Maybe I will do it, too. You never know, if I retire. Not too long ago, actually,
you know, it was guys who tried to rob me. They grabbed my phone. And I chased them. But, also, don’t forget,
I have hot water. I can easily, you know,
fix everybody. Make them a scar-face
if they try to do anything. ♪♪ You want a frappethaki? Here you go, Stephen. You have to work, and you have
to like what you do. You don’t like it, don’t do it. I’m 68 years old, you know, and I’m doing it
because I like what I do. You see the exercise I do here,
and I do even more in my house. So, I don’t stop. And I’ll not stop. How long I’m gonna keep
doing this? My kids ask me
that all the time. I don’t know. Maybe in 2 years, 5 years,
10 years — I don’t know. I’m still healthy.
I have energy. You have to put priorities.
What is your priority? Who comes first? You come first.
You know what I mean? Don’t stress in life. Never fear. And do what you like. And if you have a big problem,
leave it for tomorrow, babe. Tomorrow, maybe that problem’s
not gonna be there. ♪♪ [ Laughs ] You see?
That’s because of you! Yes! Yeah, right! Who wants to?!
[ Laughs ] -[ Laughs ]
You see, that’s because of you. Yes! Yeah, right! Who wants to?!
[ Laughs ]

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