The story below is a preview from our November/December 2016 issue. For the full story Subscribe today, view our FREE interactive digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
The man who owned and operated Norberto’s Italian Ristorante for more than 25 years won’t quite admit that he’s fully retired.
Norberto Silva, the former owner of Norberto’s Italian Ristorante in Grandin Village, is comfortably settled in his native Brazil these days and that’ll have to do for those of you who might still be pining for a return to the Roanoke restaurant race.
He’s 68 now and has been gone for almost five years, taking care of his family after a 26-year run in the Star City, one that a lot of people remember with great fondness, a fondness that almost requires that they dream of his return.
He does, indeed, return upon occasion, but to visit, not to cook.
Silva is living in his native Governador Valadares in the central Minas Gerais state (which isn’t really near anything you’d know), a city of 300,000 that Silva compares (favorably) to Roanoke. There are vegetable farms and cattle ranches, a railroad, steel fabricators and basically an economy as diverse as what he knows well in Virginia. It is an economic center in an area removed.
Governador Valadares is in the high mountains, about six hours from the Atlantic Ocean. The familiar terrain and economic standard is why he and a group of fellow Brazilians (some after trying other, larger cities) settled here. They created restaurants like Luigi’s and Carlos, which remain popular, almost iconic, in Roanoke.
He and “several other people” from his hometown “went to Roanoke in 1980,” he says. “A lot came and joined us later. All of them were in the states, but we liked the smaller town and we all stayed in Roanoke.”
In 2011, Norberto sold his beloved restaurant to Kevin Jarvis (who changed its identity in 2012; it is now closed). Norberto’s opened originally on Roanoke City Market in the 1980s. Silva moved to Grandin Village a short time later and remained there until the sale.
He announced at the time of the sale that he was returning to Brazil to care for his failing sister, who later died. Now, it is his dear 94-year-old mother who has his attention.
He was divorced relatively recently and his 43-year-old son is in his hometown with him. He is splitting time between Governador Valadares and Roanoke these days and hopes to be here for the summer of 2017.
“I lived there for 39 years, more than half my life,” he says. It feels like home. “At the moment, there are hard decisions to make” about the future. “Retire? So much has happened in a short time that it is too early to make those decisions.”
Basically, he says, “I’m just taking care for now. I don’t plan to stay; I don’t plan to return. I’m not planning to do anything, except maybe run from the cold weather. I might go back and forth the way I do now.”
The legion of fans this kindly man developed over the years as one of a group of Brazilian restaurateurs in Roanoke will have to be satisfied with the memory of the excellent restaurant that was Norberto’s.