As Brazil steps to center stage as host of this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, Tucanos Brazilian Grill is ready to take advantage of the spotlight.

The Lakewood, Colo.-based polished-casual churrascaria opened in Provo, Utah, 14 years ago. Since then it has grown to 10 restaurants in eight states, with plans to open four more units this year and three to five in 2015.

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With average unit volumes that range from $4.5 million to $5 million in about 7,500-square feet and systemwide sales expected to surpass $40 million this year, Tucanos is working to cement its place as a polished-casual concept that will succeed in most U.S. cities, said Steve Oldham, Tucanos’ chief executive.

“Our ticket average is in the low $20s, which compares to The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro or Bonefish Grill,” he said. “It allows us to be in a position where people can come more regularly and bring their kids.”

A Tucanos server presents skewers of meatOldham, who lived for a few years in Brazil as a missionary and later as a restaurant executive with PepsiCo launching the Pizza Hut and KFC brands there, describes Tucanos as a “Rio de Janeiro-inspired” concept.

The design captures the “fun and festiveness” of the city with beach themes, the bright colors of Carnival and the Amazon, and such urban touches of granite, wood and stone, he said.

Guests can choose a one-price offering, at about $16.95 at lunch and $22.95 at dinner, which allows them to select from the array of grilled meats sliced to order, the enormous salad bar, drinks and dessert. About 90 percent of guests choose the single-price menu, Oldham said.

Guests also can opt to order only the salad bar — which includes more than 70 items, hot and cold, including traditional Brazilian and seasonal dishes — for about $10.95 at lunch and $15.95 to $16.95 at dinner.

There’s plenty of seafood and vegetable options for those who avoid meat. Appetizer-sized skewers, such as scallops wrapped with bacon and grilled over charcoal, can be ordered as an add-on.

The salad bar includes more than 70 items

“We were so price-conscious when we put this together, we wanted to make sure people didn’t feel they had to go and eat everything if they’re not that hungry, or don’t want to spend so much,” said Oldham. “You really can control your experience.”

The restaurants feature exhibition kitchens, so guests can see the meat being grilled, along with a full bar. In addition to the more traditional Brazilian beer and cachaça, Tucanos offers a full line of nonalcoholic beverages, including fresh juices and made-to-order Brazilian lemonade in mix-and-match flavors.

While other casual-dining chains look to technology to speed service, Tucanos is embracing its more “experiential” format, where servers take orders and meat carvers serve tableside, Oldham said.

“We’ve trained our servers to engage with guests to become more a part of the experience,” he said. “Having touch-screen tablets there, we really don’t think that would be part of the experience.”

Tucanos has restaurants in eight states: Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Indiana and Virginia. Upcoming markets include Los Angeles and South Carolina, Oldham said.

So far, the chain has grown with internal funding, tapping cash flow and some borrowing — though some units have limited partners.

“We’re certainly considering additional equity capital,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at
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