Ana Maria and Joshua Fidalgo run Nos Casa in Roxbury, serving Cape Verdean food to a loyal neighborhood following. The mother-son duo (56 and 30) opened the restaurant in 2010 partially to provide jobs for their neighbors, and they’re hoping to regain their footing amid COVID-19.
Why did you decide to open Nos Casa Café?
Ana Maria: I opened in 2010. Myself and a friend were walking down Dudley Street, and the place was for rent. [My friend] had a sister who had just lost her job, and she was working in a restaurant. We were talking, and I said, “Oh, that place is up for rent! We should look into it and probably start a takeout business where we can provide Cape Verdean food, since this is a Cape Verdean neighborhood.” That way we could … employ some of the people who can help us sustain [it].
Joshua: A big inspiration behind opening the business was to provide job opportunities for those who had lost jobs but are willing to work, specifically women. So it was more to give back to the community.
Tell me a little bit about that. What was your business philosophy?
Ana Maria: At the beginning, we were an all-female staff. And my philosophy was, I have this group of women who know how to cook the Cape Verdean food. They know what people like, and we didn’t have anything similar in the neighborhood at that time. You can come, look at the food, and right there you could, in less than 10 minutes, have everything ready and leave.
Let’s talk a little bit about your culinary history. Why did you end up in Boston?
Ana Maria: I am from Angola, and my parents are from Cape Verde. My mom had come to Boston in search of a better opportunity. She was sick and she needed some medical care. She came, but unfortunately she passed away. And then I came to visit, and I stayed. I came [to Boston] in 1983, and my husband and I started a grocery store on Dudley Street, F&T Davey’s. It’s not too far from where the business is now, the restaurant. We were there for more than 30 years. And that’s practically what I was doing up to the time we opened the takeout.
Is it hard to launch a restaurant in Boston? What was the process like?
Ana Maria: At the beginning, it was tough, because without experience in the field, I had to ask a lot of questions from people whom I already knew had a business going. It wasn’t a hard process to get the licenses. And I was always open for advice from people who already had a business going.
Joshua: It was helpful tapping into networks of business owners who supported us, to help us hit the ground and start running. Of course, like any business, when you get started, you might have two, three, four people trickle in. We’ve had the support of family and friends who, once we opened, were here to buy a meal. And, more importantly, other community members. Right? So at first it was slow, but we’ve been in business for over 10 years. So I’d consider it successful. COVID has hit us a little bit.
What’s happened to the restaurant since COVID-19?
Joshua: We had to shut down for two months. For all the folks who work here, it was about their safety. It was about the safety of our employees first but also the safety of community members. Because, again, we were getting so much information from news outlets about this and that, and there was a lot of uncertainty. So we stayed closed for the safety of others.
Ana Maria: I came back with the same amount of employees , because we did apply for the PPP loan, and we got some help. Fortunately, we got the help, and that’s helping us a lot to stay open and keep going with the business. … Right now, I would say that we are about 55 percent of the clientele that I used to have.
What do you want people in power to know about what it takes to run a restaurant right now?
Joshua: I’d say that the city has done a great job providing resources and allowing us to use some of the resources that exist in the city. We were provided guidelines on how to run the business, how to keep folks safe. Specifically speaking to the city, maybe more financial relief, I guess? Again, we’re running at about 55 percent. And I don’t know if there’s a way that the city could, I don’t know, maybe use the restaurant for certain stuff.
I work at the Dearborn STEM Academy. I’m the dean of school culture. There are a lot of families who need additional resources, especially around food. And I believe that the food program is being cut. This is an opportunity for the city to say, “Hey, let’s support small businesses and maybe make meal kits and tap into the restaurants.” Allow us to provide food for those families. So maybe a little more collaboration with the city and efforts to make sure that no one goes hungry.
Our country is undergoing a reckoning on race. In Boston, how has the racial climate changed since the 1980s?
Ana Maria: In my case, in the beginning, it was not that welcoming for people to stop by and buy stuff right on Dudley Street, because there was a lot of things going on. Make the streets safer and welcoming, because especially for Dudley Street, most of the people who stop by and buy food are people who live in the neighborhood, but we would like to attract more people outside the neighborhood. But for that to happen, the neighborhood has to look a little bit better, and welcoming, in a lot of ways. Dudley Street needs a lot of work in order to be a place where people would like to just come and spend some time, people who don’t live in the neighborhood.
Joshua: The city has done some work around storefronts and providing funds or reimbursement to get those renovated. But if you look at new areas such as the Seaport, one day [it] was a dump, and then the next day, I mean, it’s unbelievable. It feels like you’re in a different city, different state. But when you have Dudley Street, [which has] been around for forever, you look at the buildings, and they’re the same. I think it’s more about not just the city saying, “We have funds for you guys; come and get it,” but actually being a little more accessible, with less restrictions, and allowing our community to build and be as vibrant as the Seaport. Because Dudley Street is a popular street, and people are in and out of this community.
How has your own neighborhood changed?
Joshua: I mean, in terms of appearance, it looks the same.
Ana Maria: No, it’s changed a lot. When I came here in ’83, ’84, it was really a dump. There were a lot of things going on. I would say, up to 2005, it was really hard. Things started to change a lot after that. And I saw a big improvement in terms of the appearance. Less garbage going around. And after DSNI [the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative] was implemented, they did a very excellent job trying to make the neighborhood more livable.
Let’s talk a little bit about your food. What do you recommend?
Ana Maria: We are well-known for our cachupa. And we have our traditional plates from Cape Verde that are really hard to find in other places, and a lot of people come here for that. But not only that, I have people who come from a Spanish background, or an American background, who buy our food. We have the curry chicken, and they love it. We have, each day, four different kinds of fish that we’re selling.
Joshua: Our menu is very extensive. I mean, we have goat, we have different types of fried fish, such as red snapper, mackerel. We have the curry chicken, baked chicken, grilled chicken, a variety of rice options, seafood rice. … You can come for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have different plates.
Ana Maria: And they’re all ready to go. You don’t have to wait; they’re already made.
Any guilty-pleasure pandemic snacks?
Joshua: I’ve actually been eating better, but I wasn’t a fan of desserts. I never really ate a lot of desserts. I guess, during quarantine, I’ve definitely been ordering lava cakes with ice cream, or trying to get a cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. I’ve been eating a lot of desserts.
Ana Maria: Yeah, me too. A lot of ice cream. My favorite snack.
If you had a crystal ball, what do you think will happen in a year?
Ana Maria: I’m not saying we’re going to go fully back to normal in one year, but I expect it to at least improve by 80 percent. We should be able to manage better.
Joshua: I don’t know. It’s uncharted territory, so I don’t know. What I could hope for is that we’re able to put tables back in … It’s takeout, but folks sometimes just take their plate and sit down, and they’re able to chat with friends. A lot of times folks will bump into people who they haven’t seen in such a long time and just sit down and converse.
Nos Casa, 475 Dudley St., Roxbury, 617-606-7060, www.noscasacafe.com