Constance and Samuel Athayde, her daughter Nicole Maipi and husband Eduardo Argueta brought a little bit of the Southern hemisphere to Brookings when they opened Tropicalia April 13 — and they’re already hoping to bring a little more.
They’d already been selling Brazilian delectables at events at the Port of Brookings Harbor, but weren’t sure what to expect when they opened their doors that Saturday.
“It surprised us,” Constance said. “It was a steady stream. And we’re a little off the main road and tucked in between two frequented businesses with their own separate clientele.”
Those numbers doubled the next day, Nicole said. And again the next.
The restaurant is tucked between Always and Bloom and the Sushi Noodle House on Cottage Street behind Dutch Bros. in Brookings.
The people were coming to sample the meat pies, smoothies, crepes, salads and other items native to Samuel’s hometown of Vila Velha in Brazil. The foods themselves are a blend of tastes from Brazil, Portugal, indigenous Indian, Africa and Lebanon, offering foodies in town an entirely new option for dining.
“It’s a true amalgamation there,” Constance said, noting that the American pallette isn’t quite ready for some drier foods like kibi, a garbanzo bean-based plate. Most meals don’t have the hot-heat of Hispanic dishes — but they’ll add either, on request.
The national dish — the Athaydes hope to include it on the menu eventually — is feijoada, with black beans, leftover parts from up to a dozen different meat sources, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes and all simmered for hours. The high-energy and protein food was needed to feed workers in the fields.
The African contribution to that dish was cassava and collard greens. And being on the coast, seafood is an obvious and essential mainstay.
“The food they cook has extraordinary flavor,” Samuel said.
Meat in Brazilian restaurants is often cooked on a spit — and cut and served at the table until diners say they’re full.
Some customers have expressed a bit of timidity before trying a new meal, but the couple has noted they most often return. It’s hard to resist a savory crepe stuffed with spicy tuna or honey-smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers.
Other offerings include the Pao de queijo, a cheese bread snack made with cassava flour; the esfirra, a traditional Brazilian meat pie sold as street food or the salads with fixings that can include black-eyed peas, heart of palm, strawberries, beets and mozzarella cheese.
The five acai bowls are packed with mixtures of chocolate, berries, bananas, dragonfruit and mango.
Almost every ingredient is organic. Most are locally sourced. All the food is made from scratch, from the whipped cream to the Lebanese-influenced pastries — even the marshmallows for the smoothies. If it comes in a can or a jar, if it’s processed or frozen, it’s not on the menu.
The most popular item is the Portuguese-influenced empadao esfirra, a meat pie that traditionally features various toppings, including cheese, curd, lamb, beef or vegetables.
Often, customers wait patiently for the 9 a.m. opening for Brazilian coffee and crepes in the morning — berries with add-on options that include nuts, handmade sauces, granola, ice cream custard and others and that start at $5 or $6.
Some customers have said they should charge more — but the Athaydes want families to be able to be able to afford their offerings, which range in price from a dollar for a pao de queijo to $8.50 for a full acai bowl. The most expensive item is a $10 Romano salad with a Brazilian twist.
The smoothies are exotic, featuring envigorating tastes that, depending on the choice, feature mixtures of fresh green apples, kiwi, dragon fruit or orange sherbet, among others. The fruit parfaits, matcha mallo custard-ice cream dish and cheesecakes are other dessert options.
Customers as family
The food is important, but the people who walk in the door are even more so, the Athaydas emphasized.
Anyone who walks through that door is family.
“That’s what we’re really going for,” Constance said. “People stepping in feel like they’re in a market in Brazil. They’re coming in for fresh snacks.”
“Our philosophy is that the real payment is customer satisfaction; to make people happy,” Samuel added. “The kitchen is our therapy. We try to be professional and at the same time, spontaneous.”
They originally thought they’d make delectable snacks for the throngs of tourists visiting the beaches or mountains — and were pleasantly surprised to see people more often than not preferred taking a seat and enjoying the ambience.
“You see people happy here,” Samuel said. “Really happy. We say, ‘Our friends are coming; the family’s coming. Come join us.’”
The back story
The couple moved here from Fernley, Nevada, where Constance made food for the community on a reservation there.
“We were just meeting the needs,” she said. “There are no restaurants there. It was to serve the community.”
Both she and Samuel had backgrounds in making indiginous foods when they met in 2011 at a bus stop in Renton, Washington. He worked in the cafeteria at Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, whose food won numerous awards.
“It’s my goal,” Samuel said, in a thick Brazilian accent. “My target, to open a restaurant. We kept following that dream. It’s always been a goal for us.”
And Nicole was struggling trying to get a crepe business going in Reno; the four decided to mix it all together and see what they could create.
“We started making plans,” Constance said. “Researching. Where are we going to go? We knew we wanted access to good seafood, organic natural beef, and that we wanted to be in Oregon. Research, prayer; it just all fell into place.”
They chose Brookings for the climate — opening in a damp region like Renton didn’t mesh with the tropical Brazilian atmosphere they were trying to portray.
And with a loan from Del Norte Economic Development, they rented the intimate space and began construction. That alone took months — five months just to find a plumber to do a four-day job — and the day after they passed inspection, the first customer walked through the door.
“They aren’t customers; they are our friends,” Constance said. “They’re our guests. We want people to feel welcome; that’s part of our philosophy.”