Brazilian churrascaria chain Fogo de Chão has expanded its concept beyond the signature all-you-can-eat-style service typical to that restaurant genre with the introduction of a seven-item bar menu.

“It’s pretty transformational for our company,” said Andrew Feldman, director of marketing for the chain, which includes 9 restaurants in Brazil and 24 in the United States.

Fogo de Chão and other churrascarias are derived from the Gaucho, or cowboy, culture of southern Brazil, where ranchers visit their neighbors with large cuts of their finest meats. At the restaurants, those cuts are carved tableside for guests to eat as much as they want for a fixed price, which also includes an extensive all-you-can-eat bar of prepared salads and other appetizers.

Feldman said Fogo de Chão’s management took a comprehensive look at their business last year and realized they had an opportunity to serve guests on occasions other than a big dinner.

“We recognized that our customers are looking for a connection to the brands that’s different from anything they ever had,” Feldman said. So the bar menu reflects the Gaucho culture, but in a way that’s also accessible at a bar, such as the picanha sliders.

Also on the Bar Fogo menu are $9 hearts of palm and spinach dip — similar to spinach-artichoke dip — as well as a $14 charcuterie board, and $7 Parmesan polenta fries with aïoli spiked with Brazilian malagueta pepper.

Malagueta also spices the cocktail sauce that comes with the new $19 jumbo shrimp cocktail. The sliders on the new Bar Fogo menu are served on the chain’s signature pão de queijo, or cheese bread, with chimichurri aïoli at a price of four for $9.

The bar menu is rounded out with two skewers: $15 grilled beef tenderloin skewers with chimichurri salsa and $14 grilled spiced shrimp skewers with passion fruit sauce.

The Bar Fogo menu debuted nationwide on May 1, but Feldman said it was first tested in San Diego in the late summer, and was then introduced in the Rosemont, Ill., and New York City locations.

“It was a huge move operationally, because we’d never done anything à la carte before. So we needed to proceed with caution,” Feldman said, adding that the tests “really validated what we heard from our guests previously and what we learned from research.”

The bar program has proven to be a point of entry for new customers to get a sense of the concept. “A lot of our new diners are coming through the bar and then plan to come for a full meal at a different time,” he said.

Additionally, people already familiar with the churrascaria experience come to the bar for shorter visits.

“They might just want a Caipirinha with a picanha slider and some fries,” he said.

Picanha is a distinctive beef sirloin cut popular in Brazil that includes the fat cap, which bastes the meat and gets caramelized and crunchy in the process.

A Caipirinha is Brazil’s signature drink, made with a sugarcane-based spirit called cachaça, sugar and lime. Fogo de Chão introduced a whole line of signature Caipirinhas late last year, including a traditional version, a premium version made with aged cachaça, a Bellini Caipirinha with peach purée and Prosecco as well as cachaça and lime, and a Passionate Caipirinha with cachaça, lime, sugar and passion fruit purée.

“We can be part of an evening now when they don’t want to stop for a full meal,” Feldman said. “It’s a new occasion that our existing guests were interested in.”

He added that the bar menu was essential to attracting diners aged 25 to 40. “They require it,” Feldman said. “This is the way they try new restaurants, and they’ll go to two or three different places in an evening.”

Feldman is visiting Chicago for the National Restaurant Association Show, where he hopes to find ideas for enhancing the concept even further.

“The restaurant show has really become critical for us, because we’re a growing restaurant company and for every aspect of your business you can find something new,” he explained, adding that the show is particularly good for researching the latest technology.

Contact Bret Thorn: bret.thorn@penton.com
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