Mary L. Eddings, a woman of indomitable spirit who owned and operated a popular barbecue restaurant in midtown Sacramento, died Aug. 13 of cancer in Merced, her family said. She was 68.
Separated from her husband, Mrs. Eddings supported six children and spent decades working as a cook. After settling in Sacramento, she got the chance to run her own business in 1996 by buying out the owner of a barbecue restaurant where she worked.
She renamed the eatery a hole in the wall near 20th and L streets Mary's Kitchen and BBQ. Using family recipes handed down from her grandmother, mother and elder sister, she worked 14 hours a day cooking and serving customers lured by the sweet aroma of seasoned meat in a wood-stoked smoker out front.
She dished up chicken, beef brisket and pork ribs with homemade sides and down-home charm. She labeled her barbecue sauces "mild," "medium" and "kick your butt." She covered the walls with snapshots of regulars and famous patrons, including former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Magic Johnson, Jerry Rice and Sacramento Kings players.
"I'm a country girl from Merced," she told The Bee in 2000. "People always say, 'The way you cook, you've got to be from the South.' I say, 'Yeah south of Modesto.' "
Mrs. Eddings worked hard to make a go of it in a tough business and location. She faced racial discrimination as an African American in midtown, said her son Glenn. Her restaurant was a frequent target for vandals, who broke windows and spray-painted the outdoor iron pit.
"She was a tough old bird," said her daughter, Joanne Davis. "She didn't give up. She was a fighter."
Mrs. Eddings' barbecue won positive press reviews and loyal customers. In 2003, she suffered a serious setback when burglars emptied her safe and cash register of money needed to pay her lease. Facing eviction, she closed her restaurant in 2004.
Born in Merced on April 17, 1945, Mary L. Joiner struggled early. She had her first child at age 14 and married George Eddings, a poultry truck driver, at 17. She cleaned houses and worked in a poultry plant before cooking at restaurants in Merced and Fresno.
She worked hard to support her family and raised her children in the church, her daughter said. After closing her Sacramento restaurant, she moved back to Merced to care for her ailing husband, who died five years ago.
"She worked hard all her life," her daughter said. "She only took off one day a week, Sunday and she gave that day to the Lord."
Ms. Eddings is survived by her children Joanne Davis, Glenn, Kerman, Ricky, Arthur and Tyrone; sisters Frances Robinson, Marlene Dean and Doreen Joiner; 17 grandchildren; 45 great-grandchildren; and many great-great-grandchildren.
A homegoing service is set for 9 a.m. Friday at Antioch Baptist Church, 404 Sixth St., Merced. Flowers and memorial donations may be made to Ivers & Alcorn Funeral Home in Merced or to Antioch Baptist Church.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.