When Junea Rocha moved to the Pacific Northwest from Brazil to be with her husband Cameron, it didn’t take them long to realize that something was missing. The delicious pão de queijo (cheese bread) that graced their every social occasion in Brazil, from visits with grandma to sophisticated evening functions, was nowhere to be found. Junea, determined to satiate her taste buds and share this culinary treat from her native country, set out to replicate her family’s recipe for what they now refer to as “Brazi Bites”.
Recreating the right flavors was difficult using only local ingredients. Junea and Cameron sampled at least 70 recipes with 30 different types of cheeses before perfecting their dish. As friends tasted and raved about the final result, the idea to start a company was born.
“We’ve always been really passionate about food, and good quality food. We thought it was worth sharing with more and more people,” said Junea.
With the support of the Get Your Recipe to Market program offered by the CLIMB/Small Business Development Center at Portland Community College, Junea and Cameron started learning about the food industry--food safety, regulations, and marketing requirements. Junea and Cameron also began to develop their hands-on experience working in a commercial kitchen at a culinary incubator called KitchenCru. Their first retail account came just a few months after their product launch at a food and wine festival in 2011.
Since then, Brazi Bites’ production has moved to a dedicated gluten-free facility in Tigard, where Junea and Cameron will scale up their yield to meet market demand. Their sales are doubling month-to-month, with a presence in 40 stores and through a new partnership they have developed with a nationwide distributor.
“Continue to learn every day about your product, and always be able to adjust your strategy,” Junea recommends to other artisanal food entrepreneurs.
Though both Cameron and Junea each had full-time jobs when they started Brazi Bites, they needed a boost of capital to purchase specialty equipment and promotional materials to grow their company. Brazi Bites’ owners found this capital in the form of an SBA Express Loan product, introduced to them by their advisor at the Small Business Development Center. Now, Junea works full-time managing Brazi Bites sales and operations.
The Brazi Bites team can be found offering tastings in grocery stores in Oregon and Washington, and alongside the “BB” promotional van at special events. This year, Brazi Bites also will be a featured vendor at Feast Portland.
“I enjoy meeting people in the food industry in Portland and tasting their amazing foods. I love when people are in the store tasting Brazi Bites, and they close their eyes and say ‘mmm, this is so good,’” Junea shared.
For more information about programs and services offered by SBA and SBA partners, visit www.sba.gov/or, or call 503-326-2682.