BROCKTON — Amelia Goncalves was born on a boat sailing through the rough tropical waters off West Africa heading towards Angola — where she learned traditional dishes that would become her legacy in a new business venture, Luanda Restaurant & Lounge in a country thousands of miles miles away.
If you’re from Brockton, you probably have driven by Luanda Restaurant & Lounge at 453 Centre St., on the East Side, across from East Middle School.
You probably saw dozens of cars parked like packed sardines on a Friday night with the echoing of Cape Verdean music in the distance.
Or maybe you’ve heard about their famous dish “chicken natas” conceived by the manager Jaysen Goncalves, Amelia’s son.
Either way, Luanda Restaurant and Lounge is a popular Cape Verdean and Angolan restaurant in Brockton.
The restaurant has a diverse menu of food with a mixture of Afro-Portuguese influences that dance in harmony with different spices and creams.
Some dishes include premium meats and seafood such as steak, chicken, shrimp, cod, tuna, salmon and octopus served with any of their 19 sides and house-made sauces.
The sauces include nata, which is the most popular and is a lightly seasoned cream sauce that pairs well with seafood, poultry and a tall glass of white wine.
Verde sauce is a mixture of finely chopped onions, different colored bell peppers, virgin olive oil and seasonings, and is made fresh every day and pairs well with any protein combination.
Mozambique sauce is a popular red creamy sauce made from the peri-peri peppers and originated when Portuguese explorers brought the hot peppers to southern Africa.
Recommended popular dishes include steak (bife/bitoque) sirloin marinated and tenderized with any choice of sauce, grilled chicken breast (peito entrada) with nata, and half a grilled chicken (meio churrasco) with verde sauce.
The journey of the restaurant started when Goncalves was 14 years old. She learned the basics of cooking rice, beans and chicken from her mother and often prepared meals for her family back in Angola.
It wasn’t until she was married and met a new neighbor who taught her everything she knows now. Donna Ilda lived next door to Goncalves in the busy country of Angola in 1988.
At that time, there weren’t any search engines that made countless recipes readily available. If someone was a good cook, they had someone teaching them recipes and different techniques.
In Angola, cooking and socializing at parties is an essential part of the culture.
“If you didn’t have money for gifts for someone’s party, you would make their favorite dish. That’s how you show someone you love them,” Goncalves said.
Ilda showed Goncalves more complex recipes traditionally from Angola and Cape Verde. Ilda was a cooking mentor and someone Goncalves admired and turned to for all her cooking needs. As an art teacher, Ilda was a perfectionist and always gave critical feedback. When Ilda would make something new, she would invite Goncalves over to cook with her.
She kept all her recipes in a book which Goncalves still has to this day and is a very common practice in Angola among women. If a recipe was good, they would share it, write it down and sometimes experiment and make their own version of the dish.
In 1996 Goncalves migrated to America with her husband and three children, Jaysen, Erica and Cassandra. She worked as a dishwasher for an Irish restaurant for six months then worked as a housekeeper from 1997- 2002.
Goncalves wanted more from her life and to indulge in her passion for cooking. Throughout her teenage years and early into adulthood, food had been a way to bring people together to share laughter and delicious meals made with love.
Her husband Eduardo Goncalves urged her to open a restaurant in 2003. The family got together, including Goncalves’s older sister Domingas Goncalves, to decide how they would make this dream a reality.
Her husband found the storefront on Center Street in Brockton, and at the time, there was only one unit available, but over the years, they made a deal with the landlord and expanded into both units.
The entire family came in to help build and renovate the space to become the fully functional restaurant, bar and lounge that it is today.
Restaurant ownership is not as glamorous as people may think. The restaurant is doing great now, according to Goncalves, but when the market crashed in 2008, everything took a turn for the worse.
America was facing a grave financial crisis which trickled down to businesses. But Goncalves did everything in her power to stay in business, from hiring promoters and DJs to do events to selling reduced lunch plates to bring more people in and hosting shows with well-known Cape Verdean artists and live music.
Goncalves brought in her son Jaysen Goncalves, a full-time civil engineer, to manage the restaurant’s business side.
For many years she ran the business side and managed the kitchen, which became exhausting, with 90-100 hour work weeks, Goncalves said.
In 2012 the dust settled, and the money started flowing in again, and business was back on track, Goncalves said.
There were many hardships the restaurant went through but the light at end of the tunnel was the love of cooking and making people feel good through food.
Goncalves said she went seven years without a vacation and three years without a salary.
“My passion for food and love for cooking is what kept me going and working even if I wasn’t making a profit,” Goncalves said.
Enterprise Alisha Saint-Ciel can be reached by email at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @alishaspeakss. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.