The next time you’re in Texas, and feel like having some Haitian food, your intestines won’t have to suffer much. Gou Lakay, located in the heart of Killeen, Texas and its wonderful staff—which includes co-owner Mario Sense—will be more than happy to cater to your Haitian cuisine cravings. Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sense moved to the Lone Star State a few years ago. Be attentive, dear readers, as he tells the story of how he brought Haitian food to Haitian-Americans and other Texans.
Kreyolicious: How did you come to be involved in the food business?
I moved to Killeen, Texas in 2013. The cost of living here had opened my eyes on starting a few businesses. A year later, May 2014, I met Yann and Laura, my two business partners and co-owners of the restaurant. We became close friends, and one night out in early 2016, we were talking about different businesses in the community and the ideal of Haitian restaurant came up. We were so excited about it that we jumped on the idea and worked tirelessly, and opened our doors on January 6, 2017.
Kreyolicious: How did you settle on the name Gou Lakay?
It wasn’t that difficult. We had several names with Gou and several names with Lakay and one day we just combined Gou and Lakay. Voila…Gou Lakay.
Kreyolicious: What is the Haitian-American community like in Texas?
Base on the nonprofit Facebook page Laura already had, we figured with a little over a hundred people on the page and being that it’s a military town, we would create an atmosphere where everyone would feel welcomed. Little did we know, the Haitian-American community here is a lot larger than we could have imagined. Some people have been in this area for over 30 years and never knew there were five [other] Haitians here, let alone the [number] they saw on grand opening night.
Military patrons enjoy a meal at Gou Lakay in Texas.
Kreyolicious: When did it occur to you that starting a restaurant in the area would be a good idea?
I’m all about business, so the idea was always there. But, it was set a few months after I met Yann and Laura. They are very business-minded people. So the feeling of having the right partners made starting any business with them the right time.
Kreyolicious: From what you have observed, what’s the most popular dish with your clients?
I’m not sure if it’s because people miss their home cooked meal so much that surprisingly this is a deadlock between griot, diri djo ndjon [fried pork with black mushroom rice] and tasso kabrit [fried goat], diri djon djon [rice with mushrooms].
Kreyolicious: Do you find that you have to make certain adjustments to the cuisine to make it appeal to some of your patrons?
Definitely. Every month we make adjustments to appeal to our patrons…whether it’s on the menu or our hours of operations.
Kreyolicious: What’s it like running Gou Lakay day-to day?
It’s definitely a challenge. We are all still fully-employed. So, we definitely thank God for the smoothness of the day-to-day operation, and it has a lot to do with our amazing cook/chef Eugenie Chery. Without her, we don’t know how successful Gou Lakay would have been.
Kreyolicious: Hindsight…hindsight! What do you wish you had known before starting out?
Had we known there were that many Haitians around, we would have pulled the trigger sooner. [smiles widely]
Kreyolicious: Is Haiti a place you travel to often?
Since 2003, I’ve only been back twice and unfortunately. It’s been for my grandfather’s then my father’s funeral. However, we all have upcoming travel plan to the motherland within the next year.
Kreyolicious: Where do you see Gou Lakay going? A franchise perhaps?
Not to brag, we have already received several inquiries to open Gou Lakay in different States…Some from people who’ve never even been to the restaurant, just based on what they’ve seen on social media.