Rising Dough: Brazilian bread start-up aims to double sales after graduating Can-Do Kitchen

Four years turned out to be just the right baking time for Brazilian Oven LLC

Launched in 2012 through the Can-Do Kitchen, the region’s only maker of Brazilian cheese bread has “graduated” from the food-business incubator and now is rolling out its signature product in a larger facility at Bakewell in Portage. 

Brazilian Oven’s founder, Silvana Quadros Russell, moved to the United States from Brazil in 1995. She missed Pão de queijo from back home and in 1999 started baking her own version of the naturally gluten-free cheese bread, made with tapioca flour and a blend of three types of cheeses. The chewy, cheesy rolls with a crisp crust were a hit at local social events. 

Realizing an American market was hungry for her unique product, Russell connected with Kalamazoo’s Can-Do Kitchen, a nonprofit that fosters food start-ups through education, access to commercial kitchen facilities, scholarships and other resources. Previous Can-Do Kitchen graduates include The Cheese Lady, Free Love Bakery, TCB Food Processing and Kaleamazoo Chips.

Russell credits Can-Do Kitchen with allowing her to move forward as an entrepreneur without worrying about overhead costs. “Although cheese bread rolls have been around in South America for over 200 years, it’s a new product here in the United States,” she says. “I needed to test the market and make sure this new product would be well accepted here before making any big commitment. Can-Do Kitchen played an important role in my decision to start this business.” (Read more about Russell and the origins of Brazilian Oven in this 2014 article.)

The new location at Bakewell offers Brazilian Oven more manufacturing capacity and storage space, enabling Russell to increase production. She says she hopes to double her sales compared to last year. Cheese bread lovers already can find the all-natural, quick-frozen rolls in more than 30 stores, including select Whole Foods locations in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Baked from frozen at 400 degrees, they’re ready to eat in 15-17 minutes. 

Growth is baked into Brazilian Oven’s strategy. “Since day one when I started this business I had one idea in mind: Go big or go home!” Russell says. “I knew in my heart that selling at the Farmers Market and some local events was only the beginning. Now that we have room to expand, we will look for distribution in order to have our products in different venues.”

Family is also a critical ingredient in this enterprise. Russell says the company has two part-time employees who help with manufacturing. “But my husband, my daughter and my son are the ones I have counted on since the beginning. You know, not all that glitters is gold; we all have our idiosyncrasies. But they’ve been there for me through thick and thin, and I’m thankful for that.” 

In fact, “I tell them, ‘A family that makes cheese bread together stays together.’”

Writer: Cathie Schau, Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
Source: Silvana Russell, Brazilian Oven LLC and Can-Do Kitchen