The Castillos at Norma's Sweets Bakery recently celebrated the business's one-year anniversary in its location off Broad Street on Bienville.
After experiencing the location for a year, Jose Castillo is thrilled about the Broad Street area. "One thing that's really gotten me excited is the planning of the future of the neighborhood," he said. Castillo loves the diversity of people who frequent his store—food writers, artists, construction workers, African immigrants, young families, and Mid-City's large Hispanic population – and also that customers are so excited to speak Spanish with the store's employees.
He further commends the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, which helped in obtaining a bike rack for the store. "I think that was the coolest thing they asked for," Castillo said, "because people like to come on bikes."
Entering Norma's, customers see a large orange and red fleur-de-lis in the brown floor tiles; a produce section full of plantains, bananas, onions, watermelons, sweet potatoes and all types of fruits and vegetables; piñatas of various themes hanging from the ceiling; and miniature flags on display. Venture further into the store to find the bakery, sandwich and meat counters, as well as a coffee area designated "Café de America" with the finest coffee from Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Castillo hopes to gain a permit to sell beer and wine imported from Central and South American—brands like Tona beer from Nicaragua.
After locating on Broad more than a year ago, Castillo continues to add items his customers request at the bakery.
"Every customer that comes in– I say, 'I'm trying to get what you want in here.' As we grow as a store we are adding new items that people want," Castillo said.
A few customers shop around the store, and more order Cuban sandwiches and tamales at the lunch counter. Breads, flan, sandwiches, soups and ceviche are all popular orders, according to Castillo. He said his wife, Karina, taught him how to make ceviche, but he has added herbs, red onion, cilantro and garlic to the recipe to make it his own.
The original Norma's Sweets Bakery is in Kenner, and Castillo worked there with his wife, Karina, and his mother, Norma herself, for ten years before opening the Mid-City location. He still makes frequent trips to and from the Kenner location. The family had wanted to locate their second bakery centrally in New Orleans and were lucky to end up in the Bienville location, he said. Castillo had previously worked in construction and was able to see that the building was in great condition. Norma Castillo had also worked at the Union Supermarket at Tulane and Carrollton before Hurricane Katrina, and she knew the neighborhood and its needs. Their new building had been used as a party supply store and a printing company before Norma's came to Mid-City.