In 1982, the future of Detroit restaurant Louisiana Creole Gumbo was changed by a coin toss.
Joe Spencer, a veteran of Detroit radio and television and his business partner, Doug Morrison, wanted to make an investment. Spencer had his eye on an apartment complex, but Morrison wanted to put money into franchising Louisiana Creole Gumbo, which chef Joe Stafford opened in 1970.
“We agreed we’d flip a coin and whoever won the toss, that’s who we’d go after,” said Spencer, who lost the toss-up, a blessing in disguise. “I tasted the food and was like ‘wow, what an amazing product.’ ”
Founder Stafford was more interested in retiring, however, and instead of franchising he sold the entire business to Spencer and Morrison, including his proprietary recipes and seasoning blends that he brought with him from the Bayou Lafourche region of Louisiana.
With a good location on Gratiot just outside of Eastern Market, Louisiana Creole Gumbo attracts a diverse clientele who return regularly for signature dishes like seafood gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, corn muffins and southern-style dishes including meatloaf, macaroni and cheese and collard greens.
Spencer said once he retired from broadcasting he was able to invest more time into the restaurant.
“In the past few years we’ve really done some terrific things,” he said. “We have grown from what was a business that was doing probably about $450,000 a year to over $1 million a year.”
Piggybacking on this success, Spencer also sought out support programs like Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 small business program and grants from Motor City Match, NEIdeas and others. Motor City Match specifically allowed Spencer to hire a publicist and spend more on training staff.
Because of this support, Spencer was able to open a second location at 13505 W. Seven Mile in Detroit. The new spot had a soft open on Saturday, and will hold a grand opening with ribbon-cutting event in the near future. Spencer says he chose this location after polling the customers at the Gratiot restaurant. He found many were coming from this neighborhood, so he knew he had fans here.
(Spencer also opened a Louisiana Creole Gumbo in the Rosa Parks Transit Center at Michigan and Cass in 2012, but that has since closed.)
The new location has a similar concept to the original and is largely carry-out business. Both restaurants serve soft-drinks only, mainly fresh-squeezed lemonade. The new spot also has ginger lemonade and blackberry lemonade.
The Seven Mile location has a few items not found on Gratiot, including po’boy sandwiches, two pasta dishes, and more options for dessert and vegetarian dishes.
Considering most of the food is hot and ready to go when a customer walks in, this makes Louisiana Creole Gumbo a smart choice for those looking for something fast and healthy. Get a pint of vegetarian red beans and quinoa with sauteed mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes for $6.50. There’s also veggie creole, veggie gumbo and sides like oven-roasted red skin potatoes, coleslaw, collard greens and candied yams.
“We’re a foodie haven,” says Joe’s daughter, Stephanie Spencer, who is marketing director for LCG Foods. “We have a barbecue shrimp dish, but it’s not your typical barbecue shrimp dish. It’s New Orleans-based so it’s kind of tangy, lemon-y, zesty.”
Joe Spencer says the plan is to keep expanding with more locations where it makes sense to put them, and mobile food trucks with prepackaged food (not an on-board kitchen) to get food to places that may not have many options like office buildings.