‘Love was her gift.’ Mama Louise, Macon soul-food legend, dies at 93

This story was originally published by The Telegraph.

The co-founder of Macon’s famed H&H restaurant, Louise E. Ruff Hudson, better known as “Mama Louise” to generations of soul-food devotees and connoisseurs of Southern rock, died Tuesday. She was 93.

Her daughter, Lucy O’Neal, said she died of natural causes.

Hudson, along with her late cousin and godmother, Inez Hill, opened their still-renowned eatery on Forsyth Street in 1959. They fashioned its now-iconic name simply enough, using the initials of their last names.

Credit: Woody Marshall/The Telegraph FILE PHOTO

Credit: Woody Marshall/The Telegraph FILE PHOTO

In the late 1960s, members of the fledgling Allman Brothers Band came to know Hill and Hudson’s cooking around the time the group began recording in Macon. Band members soon dubbed her “Mama Louise.”

“They didn’t have money back then,” Hudson recalled in an interview with The Telegraph in 1980. “They just paid me when they could. I was like their mama.”

She and the Allmans grew close and remained so. She once traveled with them to California.

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Before Duane Allman’s death, he had planned to take Hudson to Paris.

In the summer of 1990, the band, then on tour, sent a limo down to ferry Hudson to its concert in Atlanta. She later recalled the trip there and her visit with the band: “The first thing Gregg (Allman) hollered was, ‘Collard greens!’”

He was also fond of her sweet cornbread and black-eyed peas.

Gregg Allman, before a Macon show in 1995, told The Telegraph that Hudson’s fried chicken was probably the best in the world. He recalled the band’s early days and the heaping portions she doled out for $1.25 a plate.

“I dare ya to finish it,” the singer said of the meals. “And if we didn’t have the money, she let us go. She’d say, ‘It’s all right, honey, you go ahead. Pay me when you get it.’ We’ve always taken good care of her. ... I love her so.”

Credit: Woody Marshall/The Telegraph FILE PHOTO

Credit: Woody Marshall/The Telegraph FILE PHOTO

Hudson also cooked for other musical acts over the years, including Molly Hatchet and the Outlaws. But it was the Allmans she liked most. They were, she said, the first band she listened to.

“They’re good chillun’,” she said in an interview days after that Allmans’ concert in Atlanta 32 years ago. “They’re very sweet young men.”

Long after the band’s heyday, Hudson’s restaurant remained a beacon of the group’s glory. It was a reminder of the Allmans’ roots, a gathering place for fans and tourists to reminisce and chow down in the city where the musicians got their start, in the spot where they ate.

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Hudson was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1929. She grew up in Warrenton, Georgia, west of Augusta, where her parents were raised.

She moved to Macon in her 20s and before long she and Hill, who had been like a mother to her, opened their red-brick restaurant just up the hill from city hall. The eatery, as it happened, sat 500 feet from the offices of Capricorn Records, the label that brought the Allmans to town.

Hudson and Hill’s culinary genius and flair for comfort-food staples — from fried chicken and biscuits to pies and barbecued ribs — fed generations and kept a bona fide down-home cooking establishment in downtown.

Speaking of her restaurant’s longevity — and perhaps that of her own as well — Hudson told an interviewer 40 years ago that patrons often urged her to “stay the same,” to continue serving delicacies that became harder to find as similarly styled eateries faded from the regional landscape.

“I’m still here,” Hudson said, “and business is pretty good.”

Credit: Beau Cabell/The Telegraph FILE PHOTO

Credit: Beau Cabell/The Telegraph FILE PHOTO

On Tuesday, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, himself an Allman Brothers alum, spoke fondly of the H&H’s handwritten menus, which changed daily, and of punching buttons on the diner’s jukebox.

He said the band’s affection for Hudson was deep and sincere.

“She is a Macon music icon. She fed all of us when we were starving musicians. ... God, she had such a big heart,” Leavell said. “She was always just an angel.”

She retired in 2013 and sold the H&H, which still bears the same name, the next year.

“Love was her greatest gift,” O’Neal, her daughter, said Tuesday. “When you’d go down to the restaurant to eat, you were comfortable. It’d be like you’re at home.”

O’Neal said when people — even those she loved — would ask Hudson for recipes or cooking secrets, Hudson would tell them, “Darling, I put a pinch of this and a little of that.”

Said O’Neal: “She never would tell you exactly.”

Hudson is survived by two daughters and a son. A second son died last year.


Credit: The Telegraph

Credit: The Telegraph

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