When you stroll into the annex of Iguatemi shopping in the sunny city of Fortaleza, Brazil, the biggest surprise one gets is Cachaçaria Ypióca (Av. Washington Soares, 85 Fortaleza, Brazil), an upscale bar and restaurant that serves a large variety of dishes and cocktails that all share the same central ingredient – cachaça (pronounced Ca-sha-ssa), a product that the Telles de Menezes family has been producing for almost two centuries – Brazil’s oldest commercial distillery in operation today.
Unlike most places where the national spirit can be found, this is no ordinary Brazilian bar. For instance, no cheap shots are served there. Another thing you notice is the crowd, which is formed by professionals of various ages, ranging from the young single type to people in their forties and fifties, depending on what day it is and the mood the evening offers.
Their menu choices blend local cuisine staples like casquinho de caranguejo (crabmeat served in a shell) and feijoada (black bean stew) with more sophisticated items like pedacinho do mar (rolled breaded fish fillets stuffed with ham and cheese) or mariscada (seafood melange).
The cocktails are also quite surprising – alongside caipirinha and batidas, you also have a variety of choices created specially for the venue.
The entire project was created by Aline and Gisela Telles, who are also executives at the Ypióca plant in nearby Maranguape. They chatted with us during a recent visit on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in Fortaleza as we sampled some of their food.
Interestingly, the Telles sisters – as well as pretty much everyone else in the family – do not drink at all, in spite of having grown in a family that produces cachaça.
How was the idea of creating a cachaçaria in a shopping mall born?
Aline Telles : Well, at the time Ypióca was celebrating its 160th anniversary, and we were preparing various different things to mark that. We launched a new product, the Ypióca 160 (cachaça aged for 5 years and flavored with malt) and released a book with the company’s history, and also had the idea of creating a space where the company would have direct contact with their consumers with a different profile of what was being done at the Cachaça Museum.
So the anniversary meant that the Ypióca had to let the people know about its history, and the cachaçaria would be a great opportunity to do so.
What we imagined in the beginning would be to do this in airports or duty-free shops, but things began to shape up after we visited some distillery houses in the United States such as the Bacardi House. We reached out to the Iguatemi Shopping Mall, because the concept was to place the brand as visible as possible, showcasing the fact that this is a respected product that has all the elements that represent Brazil.
Our proposal was to open the business in a shopping mall instead of nightlife areas in order to cater to a more select, older audience such as tourists, couples or groups of friends. At first the mall’s administrators resisted the idea, but once we showed them similar venues outside Brazil, they understood that the proposal would bring something new to the place.
Who are the people that usually come here?
Aline Telles : Now, three years after we opened the place, we are happy to say that we are on the right track – there is a younger crowd that comes here, but there are not many of these. We specially notice during lunch hours and special nights that most of the people that come here are over 30 years of age – specially couples, who were our target audience in the first place. Our next challenge now is to upgrade the place specially on slower nights – we are planning a tilapia festival on Wednesday nights or a Sunday with a sports theme – but all within our established standards.
You do find some younger people here but in a much smaller scale, mostly because of our service system, our drinks profile and also due to the pricing – it is a higher level within the area of the mall itself, which is located in a more expensive area of the city.
Do you think having a cachaçaria at this level helps de-stigmatize prejudice against cachaça itself?
Aline Telles: Yes, there is some prejudice when it comes to cachaça in Brazil – Ypióca is exported to more than 40 countries around the world, and is a respected brand abroad. However, when it comes to Brazil, people here do not view the brand the same way they do other spirits like whiskey or tequila. Our proposal with this space is to help to break this perception by bringing the product to a shopping mall in order to demonstrate that there a certain level of sophistication to cachaça.
Do you have plans to open other branches of the cachaçaria in other places?
Aline Telles: When we first started the project, we immediately thought of making it a franchise – our dream is that the Cachaçaria Ypióca will be able to expand to other areas in the country and also to other places in the state of Ceará – we have already had several proposals even from people outside the country but we believe that this is still a pilot project that is still in a development phase, and as an industry we have to improve this idea of a more sophisticated bar.
Gisela Telles: And there is also the fact that not only the drinks here are made exclusively with cachaça – the dishes are all prepared with it, including the feijoada and the mariscada.
Among all the different varieties of Ypióca, which is your personal favorite?
Gisela Telles: We don’t drink (laughs).
Aline Telles: Nobody in the family drinks, actually.
You’re kidding, right?
Aline Telles: I don’t really know how to explain this – we do respect the product, and I did taste all the cocktails that we serve here. But it was just a taste. And that goes for any alcoholic beverage – I rarely drink wine or champagne myself. We do participate in the production and all, but we are not exactly consumers. This comes from the way we were brought up – our father doesn’t drink either, and this influenced us. Our friends do drink, but we don’t. Even our younger brother, when he hangs out with his friends, he won’t even have a caipirinha. He’ll go with coconut water instead.
When you opened this place, what was the initial reaction?
Aline Telles: At first, I don’t think people grasped the concept. Maybe because we had this sophisticated ambiance, people would actually walk in and they wouldn’t realize it was a cachaçaria. We were very discreet when we started, and then we noticed that people were not connecting the venue with the brand. It was then that we decided to expand the menu that people finally noticed what the whole idea was. I guess people didn’t really get it then because cachaçarias had never taken off in Ceará as they did in the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro markets.
Gisela Telles: People soon started to discover that this place was not only about cachaça, but that you could come in and have lunch or dinner, so gradually the public began to notice us mostly through word of mouth. But after working hard on the promotional side, now we have a much larger crowd that comes here, thank Goodness.
For more information on Ypióca and its products, visit http://www.ypioca.com.br/
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared in The Brasilians.