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Project focus: Milho & Brasa, Brazil

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Despite the complications of a global pandemic, Brazilian consultancy firm Guersola Consultoria gave the owners of Milho & Brasa the confidence to overhaul their restaurant, as Elly Earls hears

Milho & Brasa is located in eastern Brazil on a highway that connects the city of Ilhéus to the surrounding cities. For 15 years, it had been a small roadside cafeteria specializing in corn-derived products, until its owners Elielson Santana and Daiana Boudoux decided it was time to up their game.

They wanted to retain the original operation’s family feel, focus on corn and its relationship with barbecue cooking, but with improvements. Today, Milho & Brasa is a 120-seat restaurant with an à la carte menu, breakfast and lunch buffets, a bar, boutique, children’s area and a new barbecue. “A restaurant is not just an establishment where people eat,” says Santana. “It is a place that must also enchant the customer with its style, its proposal and its service, guaranteeing quality and good practices.”

Resilience and survival instinct

When FCSI Associates Adalberto Santos and Flavio Guersola of Guersola Consultoria first received the call from the Milho & Brasa team in 2019, they were pleasantly surprised that entrepreneurs in the region were willing to invest in something so innovative and transformative for the locality.

“Milho & Brasa was born with the purpose of raising the level of service and food proposal in the Banco da Vitoria region,” explains Santos. “And we were honored to be involved in a process of personal and professional evolution for the owners.”

As the project went on, they continued to impress him with their resilience and survival instinct. The restaurant was originally scheduled to open on 1 May 2020, but when the Covid-19 pandemic started to take hold, it became clear that this wouldn’t be feasible. “We were forced to stop the project in March 2020 and we needed to make sure we had the ability to survive, while also not letting the work stop and maintaining the organization of the restaurant as if it were going to open the next day,” Santos recalls.

Milho & Brasa spent its first eight months of existence in limbo – with everything and everyone ready and raring to go but no sit-down guests – until it was finally cleared to open its doors in December. And while it wasn’t part of the original brief, an important part of Santos’s role ended up being bringing “security and tranquillity” to the owners who had never been in a situation like this before, let alone during a global pandemic.

“They brought us, above all, confidence and courage, because I believe that in this scenario, in the middle of a pandemic, you weaken due to fear, no matter how much experience you have,” Boudoux admits.

Minimizing errors, risks and failures

Santos and Guersola fulfilled their agreed obligations too – to offer a more qualified and objective look at the market than Santana and Boudoux could have achieved, as well as expertise in management, marketing, finance, purchasing, logistics, strategic planning and team structure and training.

“We know the challenges that exist in the entrepreneurial world, where the risks are constant and courage must be stronger than fear,” Santana says. “Working with quality consultants wouldn’t make us immune to errors, risks and failures, but we did hope it would help us be more precise and confident in our choices.”

Initially Santos and his team focused on mapping out the project’s strengths and meeting various industry players about potential collaborations. This resulted in deals with Ajinomoto Foodservice, Cepera Alimentos and Devassa breweries, all of whom sponsored spaces and improvements in exchange for visibility in the boutique.

Grasping opportunities

They also put together digital marketing campaigns, implemented new administrative systems and revamped the staff training program. “In order to reach international standards with the client, it was fundamental to change the mindset where we had a small operation exploring a single product,” Santos says. “Corporate education was essential; they needed to understand the key performance indicators for an operation of this size.”

Guersola Consultoria also helped the Milho & Brasa team grasp the opportunities afforded by their location near a busy highway during a time when their potential new customers had to stay at home. “Seeing time go by with the restaurant ready and keeping it closed was incredibly difficult for everyone,” Santos remembers. “But we overcame this by exploring the possibility of drive thru and takeaway and creating promotions on commemorative dates to sell our products. This guaranteed some revenue to pay expenses and keep the project ticking over.”

At time of writing, Milho & Brasa had been fully open for around three months and was achieving results that surpassed the scenario outlined in Guersola Consultoria’s original business plan, which was designed in 2019 and updated in 2020.

Team spirit and a brighter future

Santos believes this success is largely down to the transparency with which he and his team handled moments of crisis along the way. “The owners became friends during these moments of crisis and uncertainty and the reason we achieved what we did was due to that team spirit as well as presenting commercial and operational opportunities in a clear and objective way,” he says. “The biggest lessons we learned from this project were to persevere, be resilient, never give up and find solutions to impossible problems.”

Meanwhile, Santana’s and Boudoux’s primary takeaway from the collaboration was the importance of the human touch in the design of a successful business. “Sensitivity is fundamental in the management of a business,” Boudoux says. “Technology is important too, but it will never eliminate the human need to be present in places and to experience the difficulties and joys of each other’s company. This was one of Guersola’s differentials.”

The owners are hopeful for a brighter future post-Covid. “If it wasn’t for this global pandemic, we could have explored much more with this consultancy. There have been so many uncertainties and limitations,” Santana says. “Even though the result has been great, our emotions have been shaken. We’re looking forward to achieving even better results and satisfaction in the future.”

Elly Earls