Norma G’s food truck has gained a cult following over the years, but with the help of Motor City Match, they’ve parked the Caribbean-inspired fare that the city has grown to love in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. The restaurant is the area’s first dine-in, full-service establishment in nearly 30 years.
Of the location he chose, owner Lester Gouvia says, “Midtown and Downtown were getting saturated, and I don’t think it was really the place I wanted to be. I wanted something a little edgy. Coming from New York, there are a lot of little places that have that edge, and people like that.”
Collaborations with Jefferson East, Inc. and grant money from Motor City Match made the venture possible. “I really saw some cool things about (the neighborhood),” he says. Gouvia says he’s not concerned about the general oversaturation of new restaurants in Detroit.
His place has got a different vibe. “Those places are being built for a select group of people to bring in a select crowd. And I’m not saying that it’s a racial thing, necessarily; I’m just saying it’s an economic thing.” In contrast, Norma G’s is “an inclusive restaurant. I am not going to be selective about who I serve, and I’m not going to mince my words about that. It’s everyone’s place.”
One gets the feeling that Gouvia has felt some pressure to conform to the idea of “new Detroit,” but he’s firm in his convictions and in his fussy-free, community-driven comfort food. “When you step through these doors, this is a neutral territory. There’s no politics, there’s no color, there’s no gender, race, sex – it doesn’t matter. I cook food that is just what my mom, my sister, my family, we ate every day, every weekend, and I’m sharing that with people.”