Hospitality plays a major role in the business model at local cafe chain Kitanda. “Brazilian culture is very welcoming,” explains Erica Bueno, who draws on her childhood in northern Brazil for inspiration at her family’s five Brazilian cafes. “We want you to be here, to have a good experience.” That translates to a looser definition of traditional Brazilian dishes on the menu of food and drinks: acai bowls include the Amazonian fruit native to Brazil along with peanut butter, rather than nuts; and the popular gluten-free cheese bread pão de queijo has been rebranded as “Kitanda bread,” offered not just as a snack, but also as the base of an excellent breakfast sandwich. With delicate changes and warm hospitality, Kitanda uses Brazilian traditions as its foundation, tweaking them to appeal to new audiences.
Even the business’s name, which comes from quitanda, the Brazilian word for corner store, has been changed just a touch. Bueno’s stepfather, Joao Boff, also from Brazil, opened the business as an actual corner store in the University District in 1998, selling Brazilian groceries, cassette tapes of Brazilian music and a few Brazilian foods. The shop evolved and expanded, first moving to Kirkland in 2002, drawn by that city’s more concentrated Brazilian community, and developing into more of a bakery. It then relocated to Redmond in 2013, where the shop began to solidify into the hybrid it is now: a coffee shop with everything from little nibbles, like the bite-size chocolate brigadeiros, and plenty of pastries to smoothies for larger snacks, and even meal-size foods, like that breakfast sandwich. With this format, which Bueno helped develop after she moved from Brazil to join her mother and stepfather in business in 2009, Kitanda stays true to its Brazilian roots. That includes using only medium-roast organic Brazilian coffee beans for their drinks, among them a Brazilian latte with sweetened condensed milk. They offer their favorite foods from Brazil, but present them in approachable ways that are easy for people of any background to adore. “We selected the things we love the most,” Bueno says, from acai bowls to Brazilian grocery items, and found ways to share them.
Acai bowls and baked goods at Kitanda
“When you go into a home in Brazil, someone will always offer you bread and coffee,” says Bueno. The Kitanda menu focuses on these “small foods,” a category of snacks common in Brazil: the chicken cone, which is a soft dough filled with spiced shredded chicken; the cheese roll, which is filled with mozzarella and glazed with coconut and condensed milk; and foods that show Brazil’s Lebanese influence, such as esfirra, a meat pie.
At Kitanda’s Green Lake store, which opened in 2014 as the first iteration of its expandable concept, big circular cutouts on the wall reveal purple paint that call to mind the acai berries found in the store’s smoothies and bowls. It’s here that Bueno’s eyes light up as she talks about sharing these items with customers to introduce them to Brazilian food and culture. She makes no secret of her and her family’s hopes to bring their shops to other places with Brazilian communities—Portland, Vancouver, British Columbia, Florida, wherever—but Bueno is proud to be in Seattle, and proud that Kitanda is here, too. “We always joke,” she says, perhaps with a kernel of hope, that “Costco is from here, Amazon is from here, Starbucks is from here, Kitanda is from here.”