If you live or are visiting South Florida, think of Via Brasil, in Miami Beach, as a shortcut to Brazil: bossa nova playing through the speakers, sexy shoppers browsing the Brazilian bikini rack and hot snacks like "coxinha," a tasty chicken filled pastry, are offered. This cheerful slice of Brazilian culture has resided between a small cluster of shops at 66th Street and Collins Avenue since 1993. Portuguese is often heard as customers carry on conversations with the staff.
"When people come to my store, they stay for an hour," said owner Joe Menezes. "People come here to meet friends, it's a friendly spot." Menezes, 48, originally from Belo Horizonte, in the Brazilian southeastern state of Minas Gerais, moved to South FloridaÂ from New York in 1992.
In addition to the original Via Brasil in North Beach, he also owns stores in Pompano Beach and is expanding another one in Aventura. Over the past 10 years, Menezes has also bought and sold two Brazilian restaurants and stores in Miami and another store in Newark, New Jersey.
Catering to the Brazilian base is hard work, Menezes says, but worthwhile. "Sometimes we have to work 24 hours. We are in and out all the time," he said.
The most commonly sought items at the Miami Beach store are ingredients such as spices and other nonperishable goods for cooking Brazilian dishes, Brazilian fashions such as low-cut jeans and a wide selection of CDs by Brazilian acts.
Via Brasil also carries items such as Brazilian shampoo, conditioners, flag stickers, comic books, soccer jerseys, flip flops, towels and samba drums for Carnaval. They also have a small café selection of prepared foods, and you can line up catering for a party or even arrange to send money to Brazil.
Cashier Barbara Barros says the clientele is specific. "Most of the locals that come here are Brazilians. Some are tourists. I would say 50/50," said Barros.
For many, a trip to Via Brasil is like a trip down memory lane.
"Everybody that comes in says: Oh my God, I remember eating this when I was a child, stuff like that," Barros says.
Local resident J.E. Franca da Rocha attests to the friendly atmosphere. "Joe treats his customers well, he treats them more like friends," Franca da Rocha said.
Regular customer Christopher Mark James, who lists guaraná, the Brazilian soda, among his favorite items to get at Via Brasil, often accompanies his wife Isabel, a Brazilian. "My wife likes coming here to stay connected to her country, talk about things and gossip." James says.
Store manager, Iola Falk, who has worked at the store since it opened, says people from all cultures stop by to get their fix of all things Brazilian.
"During the World Cup, when Brazil won against Germany, on that same day, I sold a lot of jerseys," recalled Falk. "I even sold them to Germans. I found that interesting, the rivalry is there when it's time to play soccer, but then it passes."
Where: 6620 Collins Avenue – Miami Beach, Fl
Hours:Â 8:30-8:30 Monday- Saturday
For Information:Â Call 305-866-7718
Michelle Fleming is a Brazilian journalist who lives in South Florida.