Giraffas brings Brazilian flavor to American culinary favorites

Ashley D. Torres, 27 April 2012, South Florida Business Journal© 2012 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.

As the booming Brazilian economy has brought tons of tourists to South Florida, business owners have found something new to export: burgers and steaks.

Giraffas, a Brazilian restaurant chain, will open its second U.S. location at the Shops at Midtown Miami on April 27, offering a twist on burgers and steaks, and specialties such as Brazilian forafo, a side dish made from the cassava flour.

While Giraffas features traditional American items, “we are going to stick to our roots,” Carlos Vanegas, Giraffas U.S. marketing director. “We are Brazilian and we know Brazilian food.”

The new location follows the company’s U.S. market debut with its North Miami restaurant at 1821 N.E. 123rd St.

Girafas (with one F) means giraffes in Portuguese.

“The diversity of the [South Florida] community makes it more appealing for introducing a new concept and brand,” Vanegas said.

The Brasília-based company has about 385 locations in Brazil set up as fast-food restaurants. However, in the U.S., Giraffas established fast-casual restaurants, a hybrid of fast-food and casual restaurants, because it wanted to target the average American customer, Vanegas said.

Fast-casual has been a bright spot in the restaurant industry, growing 8.5 percent last year, compared to the 3 percent growth seen by the industry as a whole, said Darren Tristano, executive VP of Technomic, a food consulting firm.

More interest in ethnic foods

“We’re starting to see more brands getting into this, and certainly more interest in the ethnic category from international players who feel they can succeed in the U.S.,” he said.

And, Giraffas is one of those players.

The company’s Midtown Miami location will generate 25 to 30 full- and part-time jobs. An additional three restaurants are slated to open in Pinecrest, Doral and Pembroke Pines, for a total of about 150 employees by year-end, Vanegas said. Seven more South Florida locations are planned for 2013.

In Brazil, Giraffas operates as a franchise, with only 25 percent of its restaurants corporate owned. Gira Invest, a Giraffas subsidiary, has provided the financing for a total of 34 restaurants in the U.S.

The company is considering other urban areas with demographics similar to South Florida, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco, Vanegas said. “The goal is to become a national player one day.”

The company’s North Miami restaurant, which opened about 10 months ago, is expected to have revenue of about $900,000 for its first year, Giraffas CEO João Barbosa said.

“We wanted to test our brand here in the U.S. and, of course, the Brazilian population … those that already know the brand, were important for bringing revenue to the restaurant,” he said.

The Midtown location is expected to have annual revenue of about $1.5 million.

“Whatever dime is made, it’s going to be reinvested here,” Vanegas said.

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