Fun and games

With the Rio 2016 Olympic Games set to capture hearts and minds the world over throughout August, Emily Lewis reports how foodservice operators are looking to capture consumer footfall with Brazil-based menus

Every four years the world gathers round their television screens to witness the global spectacle of the Olympic Games. With an estimated three billion people set to tune into Rio de Janeiro’s opening ceremony alone, restaurants are capitalising on the hype on an international scale.

While there may have been a surge of negativity from the press towards this year’s Games in Rio, the vibrant culture and robust cuisine of Brazil is one that foodservice operators have not been shy to cash in on.

Running up to the Games, restaurants across the globe have been embracing the prospect of featuring traditional Brazilian churasco and feijoada on their menus, plastering their walls with the iconic green, yellow and blue of the nation’s flag. Hunter’s of Brooklyn, New York, have allowed the Olympics to play a particularly transformative role in their customers’ dining experience.

Playing with space, food and a Rio vibe

Fer Camberos, owner and manager of Hunter’s, lived out his teenage years in Brazil and now wants to provide his city-dwelling patrons with “an exaggerated, fun Rio in the middle of a very hot and sticky month in Brooklyn”. This he will attempt to achieve by transforming his North American style restaurant into “Olympic Brooklyn”.

Camberos asserts that the exotic atmosphere he and his team are offering pivots around more than just the sporting world however, stating that “Olympics Brooklyn has sports and TVs, but the idea is more a transformative play on the space, food and vibe of Rio.”

Probably the coolest thing about the Brooklyn pop-up is its collaboration with Brazilian chef/jeweller Bruno Vargas, who has opened and consulted on restaurants in Rio, Buenos Aires, Guadalajara and Manila. “We threw out the [Hunter’s] menu for a month. We went super authentic with everything and hope everyone enjoys it as a little mid-summer break,” says Camberos.

Across the pond, UK restaurateurs are also pursuing the Brazilian vibe. Cabana Brazilian Barbeque, a casual dining chain that started in 2012, has jumped on the anticipation surrounding the Games – and this isn’t the first time they’ve looked to sporting events for inspiration.

“We had a very successful pop-up in the heart of Covent Garden for the World Cup, and have always loved the idea of bringing a beach to the South Bank,” says Lizzy Barber, Cabana’s co-founder and head of marketing. “We thought the Rio Olympics seemed like the perfect opportunity for this, and luckily the team at the South Bank Centre agreed.”

Cabana’s pop-up beach bar even offers a ‘Menu of Champions’, tailored for the games and aiming to give customers a taste of what their teams are likely to be eating in Rio. Both of the NYC and UK-based restaurants have incorporated dishes with flavours individual to Brazil, ranging from pao de queijo at Olympic Brooklyn to the spicy malagueta chicken by Cabana.

Brazil: the food world’s next biggest hit

While both foodservice operators willingly admit that the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is certainly raising the profile of their menus, they also assert that Brazilian food is making significant inroads internationally, with or without the Games.

Barber notes that Brazilian restaurants have historically been very successful in Britain – the full-bodied flavours provided by traditional churrascarias have always appealed to the UK public. Cabana seeks to offer a different side to this football-loving, samba-dancing image of Brazil, with more of an emphasis on “tropical flavours and colourful, bright interiors.”

Equally, Camberos states that “there isn’t enough food variety in this part of Brooklyn” and would like to see a shift away from the churrascaria, and towards “the more subtle parts of the cuisine.”

With Cabana still expanding, and Hunter’s considering a permanent move into Brazilian cuisine, dependent on the success of this month’s pop-up, there does seem to be a growing popularity into South American menus for the foodservice industry.

Camberos believes the cuisine’s future success rests on its “whole foods, fresh ingredients, juices and variety of fruits and veggies” as well as “the awesome carnival that is Rio.”

Emily Lewis


Cabana’s beach bar pop-up (pictured above) is currently open on South Bank in London, UK, and Olympic Brooklyn by Hunter’s starts business this month in Brooklyn, NYC, US


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