By Paul Hopkins
October 23, 2007

This article is to tell you about our experiences in migrating to and opening a restaurant in Brazil, more specifically, in Trancoso, Porto Seguro, in the South of Bahia.

I am from Perth in Western Australia and I met my wife in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro. We got married in 1993. After living in Niteroi for one year (I used to teach English), we decided it was time to go to Australia and work hard at exploiting the 1st world” (for a change), then come back to Brazil to open a very small business and chill out by the beach somewhere.

In 2000, we came back to Brazil for a 3 month holiday to see if we still felt the same way about coming back for good. So we flew all the way to Fortaleza and drove down to the South of Bahia, and the answer was YES! But instead of opening a small pousada, I decided what Brazil’s northeast really needed was options in terms of food. So we went back to Australia to save a bit more and to get organized in relation to our future plans. In our last 3 years in Australia, we did all the small business courses available to prepare ourselves to run a business, as both of us had been public servants all our working lives. I did my Commercial Cookery course (Chef’s Course) and 2 year’s work experience in a variety of restaurants. My wife (Luiza) did a Bar & Restaurant Service & Management Course and also some work experience in several restaurants in Australia. Both of us tried to learn as much as we could about the industry in the shortest period of time as we were both working full-time in our real jobs. Of course, we needed to gather as much money as we could behind us, as we were aware that things in Brazil are, most of the time, not very easy or the economy very stable.

So, in 2005, we finally took the plunge, resigned from our jobs and sold our house and arrived in Brazil on June 12th. When we left Australia, I already had my Brazilian Permanency Visa (tip: if you are in the process of applying for a Permanency Visa for Brazil, it’s much easier to get it via the Brazilian embassy in your home country than it is applying once you’re already here). So we went to Niteroi to stay with family and friends, buy a car and legalize both our situations (CPF, RNE, Electoral Voting Cards, bank accounts etc). We then decided to travel around the northeast of Brazil and look for a place to call home. We stopped first in Cumuruxatiba and then in Trancoso which is where we decided to settle.

We then started looking for a pousada with a restaurant. After awhile, watching our new friends who had pousadas, we decided that the lifestyle was way too quiet for us and decided to go for a restaurant. We found a very nice place and leased it in September 2005. We waited for our container with our stuff plus everything we bought for the restaurant to arrive, and “Restaurant Masala” was born on December 25th 1995. We decided to open a small business in Luiza’s name, got an accountant and got the business happening. The first year was hard, as the restaurants here in Trancoso are very traditional and have been open for 20, 15, 8 years or so. So, the competition was tough! Being confident and stubborn beings, we kept going and are now in our second year, going on to our third summer.

We are doing really well now. The restaurant has been growing steady at about 100% in revenue every month (year on year), which is really great. We made it into the main guide book in Brazil the “Guia 4 Rodas 2008”. We are also finalists for a state award for small businesses in the tourism category. Considering we never had a bizz before and we only have 2 and 1/2 staff, it’s not too shabby… In the summer we can get up to 6 to 8 staff but the rest of the year, it’s just a waiter/barman and a cook, and a cleaning lady during the day (part-time). We prefer to pay them better and register them and get some travelers for the summer.

Were there were any bumps on the road to bliss? Of course. We ran into several obstacles during the course of the first year. Staffing was a real nightmare. In the first 6 months, 8 people went through our kitchen. With the floor staff, we decided to invest in some new blood, training young people from scratch, with very good results. We got an accountant who just took our money every month and never paid our taxes. So, one day we decided to check with the “Receita Federal” and found out we’d never paid any taxes at all. So, tip number two: never give money to your accountant, get the notes and pay for them yourself. In the end, we got most of our money back but had to pay heaps of fines and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Anyway, we are now very happy with our place; the menu is very interesting and diverse. We specialize in Thai and Indian cuisine and have things like Fish and Chips etc. I thought originally that Brazilians generally don’t like chilli but we’re finding it’s not only the gringos who love their spicy curries. The quality of our food and our return rate is very high. The music and ambience make a huge part of who we are and gringos like you me, are the major part of our clientele. So, if you need more information about opening a restaurant in Brazil or are coming to Trancoso for a holiday, we are more than happy to help you out in any way possible.

Paul (and Luiza) run the Masala restaurant in, Trancoso, Bahia (Phone: +55 (73) 3668 1872, email Paul describes the Masala (an Indian/Hindi word for a mixture of spices) Restaurant as bringing the diversity of Modern Australian Cuisine (MAC); cuisine that has been heavily influenced by the country’s southeast Asian neighbours and by the many waves of immigrants from all parts of the world.

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