The Brazilian restaurant Coco Bambu plans to open its first location in the United States in South Beach, banking on attracting visitors from its homeland, The Real Deal has learned.
The seafood restaurant is investing $8 million to renovate an historic building at 955 Alton Road, operating partner Leonardo Pessoa told TRD. When it opens in March, Coco Bambu will have 400 seats, ranking it among the largest eateries in Miami Beach.
The restaurant’s site is Miami Ad School’s former home, owned by an entity controlled by real estate developer and investor Jimmy Resnick. He bought the 15,208-square-foot property for $420,000 in 1992, according to Miami-Dade property records. The building, built in 1950, was designed by architect Norman Giller, and was once the long-time home of the Hibiscus Masonic Lodge, Resnick said.
“They are keeping the integrity of the Art Deco,” Resnick, managing partner of Resnick & Associates, told TRD of Coco Bambu. “It’s going to be like a landmark.”
Noah Fox, an associate with Koniver Stern Group, represented Resnick in the deal.
“Jimmy and I worked with the tenant, through the entitlement process to go to the planning board,” Fox told TRD. The plans also had to be approved by the Historic Preservation Board.
“I think it is going to be a great addition to Alton Road,” he added.
The restaurant hopes to start construction in the next few weeks, said Pessoa, one of three operating partners, along with Felipe Luna and Eduardo Parente, each of whom will have a 12 percent interest in the Miami Beach restaurant. The remaining 64 percent will be held by the company’s founding partner Afranio Barreira.
Coco Bambu chose Miami Beach in part because it is a magnet for Brazilian tourists, Pessoa said.
“We think our clients that are Brazilian, most of them, when they go to the U.S. they visit Miami Beach or New York, and for us, it’s easier to go to Miami Beach. It’s closer and the culture is close to Brazil’s,” he told TRD. “We count on them to be our ambassadors since they know our food, and they are going to bring other people from the U.S.”
Coco Bambu currently has 16 locations throughout Brazil, and expects to open eight more in Brazil by the end of next year, Pessoa said. Each restaurant seats 500 to 1,200 guests. Even U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Coco Bambu in Brasilia last year, said Pessoa, who describes the restaurant as offering as a “fine dining experience” at a “casual dining price.”
The chain’s founder Barreira started in the restaurant business about 20 years ago with his wife Daniela, opening a 200-square-foot spot selling empanadas. By 2001, the first Coco Bambu opened, offering pizza and local cuisine. The owners switched to the seafood restaurant concept in 2009, and have been growing ever since.
Now the eatery is expanding outside Brazil for the first time.
“If we start in a place where Brazilians are, we would have the beginning in the learning curve,” Pessoa said of Miami Beach. “We would start with a good base of clients that would bring people to the restaurant.”