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Q&A: Jair Coser, founder of Fogo de Chão

Brazilian churrascaria says timing is right for expansion

After taking three years off from growth, Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian churrascaria, is opening three new units in six months.

The Dallas-based company, which currently has 16 units in the United States, opened its seventh Brazilian unit in June in Rio de Janeiro, which has a view of scenic Sugar Loaf, and plans to open in Las Vegas in November and Orlando, Fla., in January.

The 30-year-old chain, which was founded in Brazil by brothers Jair and Arri Coser, will open in the Hughes Center business park in Las Vegas and on bustling International Drive in Orlando. The last opening was in August 2009 in San Antonio, Texas.

Fogo de Chão is known for its all-you-can-devour Brazilian roasted meats, with more than 15 different cuts prepared by gaucho-trained chefs, and the concept’s extensive salad bar offerings.

Founder Jair Coser talked with Nation’s Restaurant News this week about the new U.S. restaurants, and the effects of the recession on restaurants.

How has Fogo de Chão weathered the recession?

I think we’ve passed the recession. I think we deliver a good experience for the price we charge. While some restaurants in the recession went down 20-23 percent in sales, we only went down 9 or 9-and-a-half in that time. Last year we went up, and this year we are up around 11 percent.

Is now a good time to expand?

It’s a good opportunity to grow. You have less competition, and when you go to look for locations it’s easier. Four or five years ago, when a good location came open, the competition was high. Now it’s less so. When a landlord has a good location, he knows somebody will pay. Real estate is much better than it was four years ago.

With the recession, people are looking more for value. What we deliver is something where a family can go and have a budget. The consumer knows how much it will cost. We offer an experience for $45 to $55 a person.

Have food costs been a challenge in the all-you-can-eat format?

Beef has gone up in price, but it happens all the time. Prices go up and down. We just work at it.

A lot of economists express concern about the Nevada economy. How confident are you about Las Vegas?

The economy is coming back. When it comes back fully, we’ll be there and be able to take advantage of it.

How many seats are you planning in the newer restaurants?

Rio de Janeiro is a little bigger than the ones in Las Vegas and Orlando. We probably have around 450 seats in Vegas and in Orlando it’s going to be around 330 seats.

A lot of U.S. restaurant chains are expanding to Brazil, Russia, India and China, or BRIC nations, but you came from one of them. How has your Brazil business been doing?

Business at the new Rio de Janeiro unit is booming, but so is the economy. It’s the best opening we’ve had. We’re doing a thousand people a day, and actually charge more than we do in the United States. It’s almost $59(US) per person there.

View a video of Fogo de Chão.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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