Marcio Veiga has spent more than 30 years enjoying the smell of clean clothes, as the owner of dry cleaning company Max Cleaners. But since 2020, he’s been enjoying tastier flavors, as chef at famed Brazilian restaurant Cafe Bossa Nova in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock. Thinking back to the restaurant his mother started 20 years ago, Veiga is very proud of what his family has created since he emigrated from Brazil when he was just 14 years old.
“My mother had the courage to move to America and start over with three children, knowing no English and with next to nothing, to start over in a new country,” Veiga recalls. “She was the first in the family to own a dry cleaning business in Texas. I became a dry cleaner in 1991 and my brother became a dry cleaner in 1992. [My brother] was able to help my mother realize her dream of owning a restaurant.
Moose Cleaners had a spacious location on Kavanaugh Blvd., and Joe Veiga found he could operate from the back section while inviting his mother to open Bossa Nova in the center. She started with a simple menu of black beans and rice, cheese bread and salpicão – a beloved Brazilian staple of shredded chicken, peas and carrots, as well as grated Fuji apples and fried potatoes, served with white rice and a mista salad. Originally open for lunch, the restaurant quickly proved efficient enough to serve dinners as well. Moose quickly closed so she could expand to cover the entire space.
Today, the menu is full of exotic dishes, such as Moqueca, a seafood stew cooked with coconut milk and palm oil, and Picanha, a traditional Brazilian cut of beef served in a hot skillet. with rice, fries, dressing and fried banana. But the tour de force is Feijoada, a black bean stew with three types of Brazilian sausage, ribs and sun-dried white meat, white rice, green cabbage, farola, dressing and a slice orange. Brazil’s national meal, Feijoada, is also a hit in Little Rock as Veiga’s Saturday special.
“A lot of people associate Brazilian food with Mexican food, but once they experience it, they realize it’s very different,” Veiga said. “One thing that sets Bossa Nova apart is the freshness of the food. We make everything from scratch and the flavor is not overwhelming. It’s very soothing, like a comfort food, and healthy. To be authentic, we import most of our products to make them as close to the real thing as possible.
Veiga took over his mother’s restaurant in October 2020, after the COVID pandemic reduced his sales by 60%. Applying the sound business principles he established throughout his decades with Max Cleaners, Veiga engineered a comeback that not only brought business back to pre-pandemic levels, but topped sales in 2018 and 2019.
Dealing with inflation has been another difficulty, as Veiga notes that the prices of food and supplies have increased significantly. Another hurdle is finding great staff in an economy where many people seem to be dropping out of the job market. But while it was difficult to get the right mix of people on his team, Veiga is happy to note that he has his own unique flavor.
“I wanted to build around Brazilians because I wanted to keep the very unique vibe of Brazilian culture. There’s a warmth that I wanted to share,” Veiga noted. [group of] “united nations”, because we also have people from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, the United States and Portugal, and that’s great because a multicultural workplace gives everyone a different life.
Through it all, Veiga has found that any challenges in turning the business around have been surpassed by the many rewards of restaurant success.
“The reaction we get from people is the biggest reward. For me, I think food is all about energy,” Veiga explained. “You arrive in a bad mood, and a good meal energizes you and helps bond with other people when you have a meal together. The greatest satisfaction is in uplifting people.
Bossa Nova is located at 2701 Kavanaugh Blvd., Ste. 105 in Little Rock. Call (501) 614-6682 or visit cafebossanova.com.