Before she became The Seafood Lady of Louisville, Nichelle Thurston was just a Florida transplant with a hankering for some Cajun-style seafood.
“I’d been here for five years or more, and I realized that I couldn’t find the type of food that we eat on the Gulf Coast,” says Thurston. “I ate at numerous places that people recommended, but it just didn’t do it for me—It didn’t have that edge of what I was looking for.”
So Thurston starting making her own seafood feasts and sharing them with a few neighbors. Those neighbors raved about her cooking to their friends, and more and more people started showing up at Thurston’s door.
“Once the line started forming around the block, there started being problems!” Thurston says. “At that point I realized that it was time to switch over—it’s a business now. I went out and bought my food truck. I had the food truck for eight months before I went into my first brick-and-mortar at Seventh and Oak.”
Thurston’s business got a boost when it was featured on national TV in January.
“Guy Fieri with the Food Network came to the restaurant and we filmed for his show,” says Thurston. “He was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He gave us a lot of advice to stay strong to last for a long time. Everything turned out good—we were on the show and it’s brought us some awesome business.”
The business has its roots in Thurston’s family and has inspired other family members to follow suit.
“All of our recipes are recipes from my grandfather,” Thurston explains. “He was a master chef. It definitely inspired my family—they all have opened seafood restaurants since I opened mine.”
Through her popular restaurant, Thurston hopes to inspire her customers.
“My goal is to build—I wouldn’t say build a community—but I would say individually to help build people,” she says. “That in turn helps build community in the long run. Just helping people from different walks of life, bringing them in and showing them that anything is possible…I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I know what it is to come from poverty. To show people that they can come from that and end up here, or even farther than where I am, is an inspiration for me to continue to be great.”
Thurston’s story is compelling, but it’s the mouthwatering food that keeps her local customers coming back, and brings in diners from far-off places.
“We’ve had people drive, six, seven hours,” she says. “Surprisingly, we have people come here from New Orleans. They say, ‘We just wanted to try it!’ That really knocks my socks off. And then when they say it’s really good, that’s a pleasure because I know Cajun seafood is their specialty. To have them come here and tell me that my food is good—which I already know that it is—for them to tell me that, it’s kind of like a top off.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2305, which originally aired on November 4, 2017. Watch the full episode.