NEW BEDFORD — Two brothers from Cape Verde are bringing the food and music of their home to New Bedford this month.
Mateus Barbosa, 39, and Salo Afonseca, 37, are opening Morna Lounge and Grill on Acushnet Avenue in the space that was once Tilia’s Cafe. It will be a restaurant and bar with a mix of Portuguese, Cape Verdean and American cuisine.
“The idea started about two years ago,” Barbosa, a college professor and social services worker based in Bridgewater, said. “I wanted to start a business, a restaurant, but I wanted it to be in a community where there’s a need.”
As a UMass Dartmouth alumnus with family in the city, he said he felt there wasn’t a big, traditional Cape Verdean place for the city’s Cape Verdean community to go and enjoy food and music.
Morna, he explained, is a type of Cape Verdean music that is like jazz and “very relaxing.”
“We wanted something that connects the community with the place. That’s why we came up with the name Morna — a place you can go and relax and really enjoy the environment.”
He and Afonseca explained the front of the space will be a sports bar or lounge area where patrons can watch a soccer game, have drinks and eat American staples like burgers and chicken wings. The main restaurant in the back will be for more “indulgent,” traditional meals and live music.
Barbosa said they hope to host local artists, as well as ones from Cape Verde when they visit New Bedford.
The brothers also envision hosting events like weddings and baby showers once the pandemic and its gathering restrictions end, as the space has an approximate 300-person capacity.
The challenges of opening amid a pandemic were not lost on the brothers.
“It’s a risk, I understand that, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Barbosa said. “I’m an immigrant so I came to this country with nothing. God gave me an opportunity and position to do something great for the community. I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it. That’s my philosophy.”
“Things are looking up,” Afonseco, who lives in Malden, said. “We’re hoping within this year that things might start to go back to normal. This opportunity doesn’t come by often.”
Although his brother doesn’t have professional experience in the food industry, Afonseco has worked 16 years for a seafood company in New Hampshire as a food technician.
He described Cape Verde and Portugal as having a similar gastronomy, so they will try to “marry” the two cuisines on the menu.
“You might see grilled cod, grilled octopus, fresh fish; we’re gonna be seafood heavy,” Afonseco said. On weekends, he said they will offer more traditional Cape Verdean dishes like cachupa — a stew-like dish with beef or goat, potatoes and other vegetables.
Afonseco said they’ve been looking into delivery and takeout options, having recognized it will be important for survival as some people continue to avoid dining out due to COVID-19.
This will be the first restaurant the brothers open, but Afonseco said there has to be a first time for everything. With the help of their wives, they said they hope to make it through the first year and then continue to improve each year.
They also plan to keep their day jobs as they undertake this new venture.
Barbosa said that while they want this to be a restaurant for local Cape Verdeans, they also want it to be a place for any New Bedford residents.
“We are open for anyone and everyone in the community. Our goal is for this place to be a representation of New Bedford and Acushnet Avenue,” he said. “My entire life has been serving families, and that’s what inspired me to do this, to create something where families can spend quality time together and create great memories.”
Morna Lounge and Grill will open either the week of Feb. 8 or Feb. 15.