After 50 years on Gratiot in Detroit, Louisiana Creole Gumbo has to relocate

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

This story has been updated with comments from the building's owner.

A longstanding Creole and Southern food business, Detroit's Louisiana Creole Gumbo has to find a new home after nearly 52 years.

Owner Joe Spencer said he and the building owner can't come to an agreement on the future of the space that houses the carryout restaurant, an antique store and an adjacent property. Spencer — who took over Louisiana Creole Gumbo from founder Joseph Stafford in 1983 — says landlord Marc Wolf put the buildings up for sale for nearly $1 million a few weeks ago.

Louisiana Creole Gumbo's Gratiot location, there since 1970, will be open and serving throughout the spring as owners look for a new home in the area.

Spencer said he wanted to buy just the building that houses the gumbo restaurant and the antique store, but he said Wolf wanted to sell all the properties there as a package. He said the buildings have been under the ownership of someone in Wolf's family since Spencer came into the picture as owner of the restaurant. 

Wolf, who says the building was never listed for sale, says Spencer did have an opportunity to purchase the property. 

"We could not come to terms on a purchase," Wolf said in an email Tuesday. "Mr. Spencer is choosing to take his displeasure to the press. We did have a person interested in buying (unsolicited) the building and keeping LCG as a tenant. LCG's stance and demands on the purchase option made the interested party retract their offer on that building."

Wolf added that his company has worked with Louisiana Creole Gumbo for many years "through good times and bad."

"We have kept their rents well below market rate, and that has helped them keep their overhead low," Wolf said.    

Spencer, who runs three Louisiana Creole Gumbo locations in Metro Detroit with his family, said they will look for a new Detroit location nearby, either in Eastern Market or downtown Detroit. 

"We've taken the position that, hey, we're going to be leaving, we just want to negotiate and that's what our our attorney is discussing, an extended period to get out, giving us enough time to establish our next location," said Spencer. 

Spencer said the Gratiot restaurant should remain open and operating throughout the whole spring, into June or July. He opened a second location in northwest Detroit at 13505 W. Seven Mile a few years ago, and a Farmington Hills location at 29216 Orchard Lake Road debuted in September. He and his family plan to expand the brand to more locations, too, possibly as soon as this year. 

Red beans and rice with Cajun beef sausage is a favorite at Louisiana Creole Gumbo on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit on Thursday, September 17, 2020.

"I'm disappointed that (Wolf) did not care about the fact that we're an institution in this city, in this location," said Spencer. "We've held that corner up for years. When there was nothing else there, we were there. We've been here all along. We tried to negotiate to purchase the building and he didn't want to accept that because he wanted the whole deal, and that's disappointing.

"We're not going to be destroyed by it. We're moving quickly and we will be in this area and we'll be pretty close by and we're going to continue to be doing business, it's just unfortunate," said Spencer, adding that Louisiana Creole Gumbo has a really loyal customer base at this location. "Everybody is so disappointed that this is happening, but we let them know that we are going to continue to serve you."

Louisiana Creole Gumbo — founded by chef, cookbook author and Thibodaux, Louisiana native Stafford in 1970 — specializes in the signature dish, including chicken, shrimp and seafood gumbo and gumbo amore with shrimp, oysters, crab meat and a "special spice blend." The menu also has jambalaya, baked chicken, meatloaf, barbecued chicken, fried catfish, po' boy sandwiches and vegetarian dishes like red beans and rice, collard greens and candied yams. 

Visit detroitgumbo.com to order online from all three locations. 

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens