By Shaun Alexander
March 16, 2015

“Where are you going for Carnaval?” Or, in other words, where are you travelling for Carnaval – that’s the most common question among Capixabas in the weeks leading up to Carnaval. Traditionally, people from Vitoria leave the city during the holidays, either to go to beaches within Esprito Santo state, up to Bahia or down to Rio.

Indeed, I can testify that Vitoria (where I’m currently living in Brazil), has been a ghost town over the last couple of days as bars, shops and restaurants have shut up shop in line with the mass exodus. However, things could be changing.

The local mayor has invested a lot of money in keeping people at home during Carnaval, and it is now billed as the first parade in Brazil – occurring a whole week before the parades in São Paulo and Rio. This year, the parade was bigger and better than it’s been in many years. Even Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, made it to the event and starred in a school’s parade.

The thinking is this: within a short commute from the city are around a dozen top quality beaches. Meanwhile, there are loads of interesting towns nearby where visitors from other states in Brazil can enjoy some interesting culture. If the parade and local events can be improved, perhaps Vitoria can become more of a destination during the holidays. Indeed, the stunning beach city of Guarapari, just 30 minutes drive away, does steal some of the limelight, but Vitoria should be considered as a base.

While I didn’t make it to the parade itself, I did make it to the street blocos. Regional do Nair was spectacularly good, with some 20,000 people packing out the historic Rua 7 Setembro in the old city centre. The bloco lasted for an entire afternoon and into the night. I made a short movieshowing the incredible atmosphere at the event.

The thing with Vitoria is that its a great city in all the ways that Rio de Janeiro is great, but is smaller. It has spectacular beaches, breath taking views, natural beauty, tremendous food and friendly people. It’s basically a mini Rio without all the problems associated with Rio’s sprawling masses. It’s clean, friendly and has loads to do. Perhaps I’m biased, but I am an advocate for Vitoria. I think it’s time the locals stood up and started shouting about their great city. For my part, I’ll do my part to keep writing and sharing photos and videos of this cool city.

Shaun is a Scottish journalist and blogger based in Brazil. Subscribe to his video blog about Brazil.
He is on Twitter and Instagram.


By Julia Michaels
March 16, 2015

The first step taken on a path from Santa Barbara, California, to Rua Baro da Torre in Ipanema was when Sam Flowers was a mere ten-year-old, begging his mother to let him learn how to decorate cakes. That led to a B.S. degree in hotel administration at Cornell University, with an eye towards opening a restaurant.

“The irony is that I learned enough about the business to get frightened away,” Flowers admits with his easy smile. Even so, while earning an MBA he continued to decorate cakes, dreams on a back burner.

During eight years in executive management at Universal Studios, Flowers took a couple of vacations in Rio. “The first time I came alone and it rained every day. I didn’t speak Portuguese,” he recalls. “But I had never been anywhere before where I blended in, a country of mixed-race people.”

Flowers spent eighteen months here in 2004-5, that included a stint at PUC to learn Portuguese. He also scouted out locations, entertaining thoughts of chocolate chip cookies and brunch. On learning that opening a business will get you a resident visa, Flowers reserved the name Gringo Caf on the internet. Then he went home to develop a business plan and put together the necessary funding for his enterprise.

“You have to have a back-up plan,” he advises. “With enough resources for a worst-case scenario. Not having enough cash set aside is one of the top reasons restaurants fail”. According to Flowers, nine restaurants in the vicinity of the Gringo Caf have opened and closed in the two years he’s been in business. No positive cash flow for from one to three years is typical in the restaurant business, he adds.

What are the biggest problems a gringo restaurateur faces in Rio de Janeiro?

Customers shy away from new foods; Brazilians eat crpes and pasta, but have little experience with delights such as Sam’s mouthwatering blueberry pancakes or comforting macaroni-and-cheese.

Employee turnover; the current low unemployment rate means training lots of chefs and waiters, only to have them move on.

High payroll costs, due to taxes; “The burden is dramatic,” says Flowers. “And you pay income tax even if you’re losing money!”

Economists have long described and lamented the so-called “Brazil Cost”, which retards business vitality for everyone, not just foreigners. Steps have been taken to reduce this at different levels of government. But much remains to be done.

Meanwhile, revenue in the Gringo Caf’s second year is up 15-20% from its first year. Rio’s high dining-out prices have actually helped business, as tourists and locals head away from prime venues on Avenida Visconde de Piraj to find more affordable meals on back streets.

When Flowers began to dream of the Gringo Caf, he looked for someone who could describe to him all the steps of the process of making the investment, getting a visa and setting up the business. Such a person didn’t exist, he discovered. Now he’s doing some consulting on the side for other dreamers. “You really have no way to know what [the business] is going to look like until you’re in it,” Flowers concludes – despite so much careful preparation. “You have to test and adjust.”

Previously published on

Julia Michaels, an American writer, editor and journalist who has lived in Brazil for more than thirty years.