Cafe de Casa calls the Castro home.
It’s not a surprise that food has uncanny ways of uniting families, friends, and communities: After all, most people love to cook or eat. But for Lucimer Canado, this notion was especially important.
Upon immigrating with family from Brazil to the U.S., Canado used homemade treats as a means of connecting with her people in San Francisco. For years, she baked pastries and brought them to the Consulate General of Brazil in San Francisco, through which she felt a sense of home roughly 4,000 miles away. They were such a hit in the consulate that Canado returned often. Eventually, she placed a price tag on the pastries, and soon enough, a significant chunk of the Brazilian community in SF had tried them.
After Canado found success without a brick-and-mortar establishment, one of her customers asked her to take over his restaurant. Then she turned her passion into a full-fledged business, and Cafe de Casa was born.
Co-Owner Thais Moreira joined her mother (Canado) in 2009 to help run the cafe. From their early days on, the family duo has refrained from taking shortcuts or gimmicks. Instead, they’re focused on offering an undeniably authentic Brazilian experience from the moment you walk through the entrance. The same family rissole and empanada recipes remain intact.
Moreira and Canado embrace the central location of their home state to bring flavors of North and South Brazil together on the menu. Coxinhas and Pão de queijos respectively hail from South Brazilian regions São Paulo and Minas Gerais, and items like açaí and tapioca make their mark across the North. This approach ensures customers are getting a complete experience that abstains from falsely labeling central regions in Brazil as a culinary embodiment of the entire country.
Ironically, this very authentic, no-nonsense approach to celebrating the deliciousness of food back home also works for the modern San Franciscan. Gluten-free foods comprise a larger portion of Brazilian cuisine than Latinx and U.S. counterparts. In 1992, the country started requiring a warning label on all industrialized gluten-containing foods. Unlike in the U.S., health-consciousness is more normalized in Brazil, and it influences some of the most renowned dishes and whether or not they contain gluten. Alongside the tapioca and Pão de queijos, items like feijoada and yuca fries also fall into the gluten-free category.
The foundation for Cafe de Casa had been set for over a decade. Everything was going as planned before COVID-19’s spread across the U.S. However, when the pandemic hit San Francisco hard, its effects were felt by Moreira and Canado. Gone were the parties and other live events Cafe de Casa regularly catered to after the CDC placed guidelines for quarantines and social distancing. Moreira only expected the coronavirus pandemic’s traumatic effects to carry over for 40 days. Then difficult decisions had to be made to stay in business – the cafe was forced to let go of more than half its staff.
No restaurant owners deserved this, let alone Moreira and Canado, who have served critical roles in the SF Brazilian community. The mother-daughter duo took things back to basics. They’ve learned how challenging it is to downscale, especially as fellow small business owners are closing shop. It’s demanded so much more of them than they ever expected.
Yet times like these have also given Moreira a chance to rethink her values and priorities. Moreira has been reminded of what mattered from the beginning, even before Cafe de Casa had its first storefront on 17th St. in Castro. Regardless of how many patrons walk through her door, she has remained an authentic version of herself, proudly representing her family amid a global crisis. And no amount of rissoles sold can do that justice.