WACO, Texas – Well-known Waco eatery Baris Restaurant announced that Mary Imeri has passed away. Imeri, known to many as “Mama Baris”, died on January 16th.
Imeri was known for her caring nature – even feeding the homeless at Baris.
“There’d be someone out there begging for food, she’d take them a plate of food,” says friend Janice Cameron. “I mean, that’s just the way she was. She’d help anybody.”
Imeri moved her family from New York City to Waco in 1996, and after not being able to find a pizza place comparable to the ones back home, opened Baris the same year.
It was the family atmosphere she brought to the restaurant that earned her the “Mama Baris” moniker.
“The biggest thing that people said is that they could come here, and it felt like family. And they always got a hug. A greeting,” says Imeri’s granddaughter, Valdeta Ljama. “Although she saw hundreds of people a week, she still remembered those people.”
The restaurant grew in popularity in the late 90’s, and was even a favorite date spot for Chip and Joanna Gaines – according to the family.
The restaurant’s Facebook page says there was a small funeral and ceremony held because of COVID-19.
Hundreds of people shared their thoughts and memories of “Mama Baris” on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The sentiments have warmed the family in a difficult time.
“Until the other day, we were all breaking down constantly. And just seeing how she affected everyone so positively, it just made us think like, ‘Wow, this is our mom,'” says Imeri’s son, Jimmy. “She literally loved everybody.”
Some called her a treasure and an icon, while others remembered the warm greetings she bestowed on her guests.
With COVID protocols limiting crowds at funeral services, the family has decided to hold a celebration of life at Baris.
According to Imeri’s sons, she would have preferred this to a funeral home anyway.
“I’m gonna be coming here to visit my mom, so that’s why I want everyone in Waco to come here and show their respect here. Because this is where she is,” says Jimmy Imeri. “Her soul is in here.”
There are plans for a gathering at Baris this Monday, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. All are invited to attend at the restaurant, located at 904 N. Valley Mills Drive.