After more than a year of being unemployed, the staff of the beloved Crown Heights restaurant Gloria’s are back in the kitchen cooking up the Caribbean classics they are known for.

Just three doors down from where Gloria’s Caribbean Cuisine ran for more than two decades, Gee’s Caribbean Restaurant opened Dec. 30 at 770 Nostrand Ave., with more than a few familiar faces behind the counter.

“We’re like roots and we’re dug deep and we’re not leaving,” former manager of Gloria’s Wayne ‘In and Out’ Smith told BK Reader.

“Gee’s Caribbean is the name, I’m the manager, we’ve got the same chef from Gloria’s, the same employees, and we’re here.”

Wayne of Gee’s Caribbean Restaurant. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Gloria’s was forced to close its doors in November 2020, after a long legal battle. The closure left many employees — like Smith, who had worked there for 22 years — with limited options.

“For over a year we were always out of work, everyone was out of work, some of the employees had unemployment, but how long that last?” Smith said.

However, last year, an investor approached Smith to ask if he and the other employees would like to get back to work doing what they do best.

“He said, ‘Look, you guys have been here for a long time, y’all from the Caribbean, the community been asking for food, the touch is not here,” Smith said.

Gee’s is just a few doors down from the old Gloria’s. Photo: Google Street View

Smith, who has lived around Nostrand Ave. for the past 30 years, said he loved having daily interactions with his community, seeing kids grow up and even have their own kids. Through his work at Gloria’s, he’d been involved with community outreach with organizations such as the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Public Library and more.

“I’m working again rather than sitting around the house being a couch potato,” he laughed.

“I love to work, I love to be able to meet people, greet people, invite people to taste the food, taste my culture. Culture dies very quickly when you don’t maintain it.”

Gloria’s was known for serving up Trinidadian favorites such as goat curry, doubles and jerk chicken, and was even featured in the finale of No Reservations when Anthony Bourdain ate there with the late Brooklyn actor Michael K Williams.

Smith was working at Gloria’s when the pair came in, and remembers comparing their method of oxtail preparation with Bourdain, and Bourdain telling him he would not regret opening the restaurant to him.

“And I did not regret it,” Smith laughed. “Michael said the setting was just right. God bless his soul, both of them. Two icons if you ask me.”

In November 2020, Gloria’s was forced to close after a more than 20 year-long legal battle over the ownership of the property at 764 Nostrand and whether the owners of Gloria’s had been the unwitting buyers of a stolen deed, according to reporting from the Gothamist.

In February last year, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bruce Balter finally ruled that the family had “unlawfully occupied” the building and ordered them to pay $50 million in damages to Marty Riskin, a 92-year-old mortgage lender, and his attorney, Ravi Batra, and vacate the premises. At the time, the Legal Aid Society told Gothamist it had never seen a judgement so harsh.

The community was shocked by the turn of events, and the harsh judgement. However, Smith said the situation was entirely beyond the employees’ control.

Gee’s. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Right now, he’s just hoping the people who missed them will come in and support them again. “It’s only a matter of time before they get to see the employees are here, we are all working again, and that’s the support we are relying on from our community,” he said.

Just at the moment he was thanking the Crown Heights community for its support, a customer burst through the door, grinning, with an empty bag in his hand. He had been in earlier, telling the staff he was hoping to get value for money.

“Everything was on point, I just wanted to let you know,” the customer said. “Everything was perfect. My wife cooks and I cook, but everything taste good. Keep it up!”

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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