By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Bringing a taste of the United States to Carioca café culture, the Gringo Café opened two weeks ago and already looks set to fill a significant gap in Ipanema’s restaurant market with a combination of slick good looks and some nifty new ideas.
Sam Flowers is the man behind the new venture, and experience in several fields within the hospitality and entertainment industry led him to this latest foray in his adopted hometown of Rio.
“I wanted to get comfortable with every role that a CEO would need to understand and have held executive positions at Taco Bell, in finance at Disney, and marketing at Universal Studios as well as experience in mergers and acquisitions and real estate appraisals for hotels,” he said.
A first visit to Rio in 1999 was not without its problems and the city was a different beast from what it is today, with more violence, difficulties getting money, and fewer choices of restaurants. Flowers felt an affinity though, that would lead to him opening a restaurant here eleven years later with a very clear goal; to provide a “resource” for people keen for somewhere to feel at home.
“I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, so always loved the beach, but Rio offers the urban environment too, and I had never been anywhere so mixed in terms of race and where I just blended in with the crowd.”
“Setting up was not without its problems,” he continues, “and I have a new rule for doing business here now, The Rule of Two. Everything will take twice as long as is quoted, will cost twice as much and result in twice the number of problems.”
As well as difficulties in finding a site – Flowers had four deals fall through at the closing stages – the ‘traditional’ issues of doing business in Brazil may have proven frustrating at times, but there is clearly no regret as to how he has gone about setting up the café.
The Gringo Café looks set to succeed where others have failed with the astute styling and menu creation that combine laid-back Carioca aesthetics. With the offer of such American staples as a bottomless cup of coffee, pancakes and free wi-fi, none of which appears readily available in the Zona Sul area at the moment.
Seizing upon the sense that many visitors miss these creature comforts and just as many Brazilians will enjoy them and the international vibe, Flowers has seen customers keen to return and already there is a group of regulars despite the café’s infancy.
“We currently have around a 60-40 balance of foreigners to Brazilians, but I expect that to be more like 50-50 after the initial period. My experience told me that a soft opening would be good and we didn’t want to stretch the kitchen to the limit early on, and the fact that people keep coming back is a great sign.”
For more information please see the Gringo Café Website
Location: Barao Da Torre 240, Ipanema, Brazil, 22411-002
Tues – Thurs: 8:00 am – 11:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 8:00 am – 12:00 am
Sun: 8:00 am – 11:00 pm