Lester Gouvia’s food truck brought its bright, Caribbean colors to the street scene back in 2015. Out of it, he served what he called, “the food I grew up eating” — curries and jerk chicken prepared by his mother. He even named it Norma G’s, after her. Through years of meandering around town, the truck attracted a large and devoted following.
It’s permanently parked now, but Gouvia has unveiled a new brick-and-mortar establishment in its place. Norma G’s, the restaurant, is located in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood and probably the first of what is to come on the rebounding strip of businesses on East Jefferson Avenue. For Gouvia, it is the culmination of his ambition to introduce his native fare to a new audience.
Born in Trinidad, Gouvia grew up in Brooklyn and lived in several other cities before settling in Michigan. He emphasizes that the restaurant is not Trinidadian, but rather a representation of the whole Caribbean region, “with a twist,” he adds.
Norma G’s seats 91 indoors and another 22 in the outside garden and has drawn an enthusiastic crowd just about every night since opening in late August. Gouvia loves that his diners are diverse. There’s the restaurant owner who brought in a big group from a nearby bar and the neighbors intrigued by the building that suddenly emerged on an empty block.
Gouvia acknowledges the help he has gotten along the way. Motor City Match, which provided $60,000, FoodLab Detroit, and Jefferson East Inc. all encouraged him through the process, from the shell of the former bank to the handsome wood-and-glass structure it has become. When he first saw the building, Gouvia says it still had bank teller windows where the restaurant’s small bar currently stands. The setting now reflects the personality of the food truck with its hot pink, lime green, and turquoise accents.
Norma G’s is as authentic as it gets with house seasonings and sauces, and from-scratch preparation using fresh ingredients, all in a setting that is casual and comfortable. Backing Gouvia is sous-chef Gabriel McNeil, a staff of six full-time employees, and five part-timers, and “I’m looking for more,” he says.
14628 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-290-2938; Open 4:30 p.m.-12 a.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Fri.-Sat., Sun. 4:30 p.m.-12 a.m. Closed Mon.