Most people around the world don’t even imagine how versatile, tasty and healthy cassava can be. But not in Brazil. In Brazil, cassava, aka manioc or Brazilian arrowroot, is an ingredient used in many popular dishes.
Dishes like tapioca, which is a meal prepared with cassava and that can (may!) have different savoury or sweet fillings.
From cheese to chocolate toppings, to breakfast or quick bite, tapioca has become a gourmet food that spread to the streets of Europe. In the case here, the streets of Berlin in Germany.
The couple Mariana Pitanga (from Brazil) and Peter Westerhoff (from Germany) are responsible for the Tapiocaria Berlin, a business presented in several German street markets now offering the many flavours of authentic Brazilian tapioca. Yummy!
We discovered the secrets of a brand that not only spread the taste of a very popular Brazilian food in Europe but is also about to expand the business to other parts of the globe.
Midlands Traveller: How and when did you start your business idea?
Mariana Pitanga: I had the idea of opening the Tapiocaria after I went to a Street Food Market (Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Neun in Berlin) with my husband in January 2014.
We realised that although we have plenty different “street food” typical from brazil, in this market was no Brazilian food stand at all. I saw it as an opportunity to bring something new to Berlin, something that could represent our culture (or part of the Brazilian Culture).
MT: Tell me a little bit about your background in business.
MP: I really don’t have a “background in business”. I’m a graphic designer, I studied at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), and graduated in 2006.
Since then I worked as a freelance designer and also in different companies, the last one was a publishing company.
I always wanted to work in my own business, and actually, I quit my last job to study gastronomy and try to open something as a Buffet/Chef at home/bistro. But they were just ideas, I never really had a business.
MT: Why did you choose this kind of Brazilian food?
MP: I choose tapioca, firstly because I’m from Recife, and tapioca is a thing that is part of our day-to-day. It’s something so common (for me and for most people living in the north and northeast) and at the same time so rich.
It is rich in culture, rich in traditions. is something genuinely Brazilian and at the same time it can be worked in a lotto different forms, bringing a bit of modern and traditional cuisine together.
MT: What is different (and also unique) about your product?
MP: Most people in Germany, and I dare to say, in Europe do not know about tapioca or the cassava root.
And cassava is such a versatile product, where all o it can be used and be prepared in many different ways.
Nowadays more and more people are looking for something different to eat, health things, more natural products, gluten free, etc.
Tapioca has all this, it’s a cultural heritage of the Brazilian Indians, it’s dairy free, gluten free, vegan/vegetarian, healthy and super tasty.
MT: What are the challenges of having a business like yours?
MP: The first challenger was brought to Berlin a completely unknown product of the vast majority of the local population (and also tourists).
A lot of times we are so busy in the market that we cannot explain the product to everyone, and we may have lost some potential clients because of that.
The language barrier to start a business and the different bureaucracy as also were also very challenging.
MT: Where do you usually work?
MP: To prepare the food for the markets and catering we rent a kitchen from a restaurant here in Berlin and we used to sell our tapiocas in some “Street food” markets in Berlin.
And since we have our food truck, we started to travel to other cities in Germany and also other counties such as Switzerland and Austria. Besides that we also do private events and catering.
MP: What is the secret to keeping the customers interested in your product?
MT: I think that is no big secret to keep the customers interested in our product.
We always try to do our best, to present a really tasty food all the time, treat the costumers well, be sympathetic and try, as much as possible, explaining the product and a little of the history behind it.
Another thing we try to do is bring some different or special tapiocas or menus always when it’s possible, so our customers can keep coming to try different things.
MT: What is special about the street food business?
MP: I believe we are living in a moment of transition time when people are looking to eat with better products, less processed and more natural.
I also believe that modernity has brought some privacy for our lives, and we usually eat alone, no longer exists, or rather, large families gathered around a table sharing meals.
And maybe, the street food scene brings some of this back, this interaction at mealtimes, in a different way of course, but still valid.
MT: What is your type of clientele?
MP: Our clientele is very varied, ranging from modern young people, the whole families or older people. It also depends on where are we also it depends a lot on where you are selling, in which event we are.
MT: Do you think about expanding your business?
MP: Yes. We have a project to make a franchise system for a food truck, small coffees, food trailer and food bike.
MT: What is your advice for someone who is thinking about starting a business?
MP: Do it! Of course, do cautiously. Make good field research, see your direct and indirect competitors and analyze the costs and the local bureaucracy not to be caught off guard and colour everything and all the investment to lose.
Photos | Tapiocaria Berlin
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