Little Brazil Debuts New, Larger Wheat Ridge Location | Westword
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Little Brazil Has Made a Big Comeback in Wheat Ridge

A new space, a new executive chef and new menu items are all part of Little Brazil's next era.
Design details are inspired by the Amazon.
Design details are inspired by the Amazon. Bruna Marques

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"I feel like she's here and I feel like she's proud," says Little Brazil co-owner Kallen Marques as she looks around the dining room at the restaurant's new Wheat Ridge home at 7333 West 38th Avenue. It was her late mother Fatima's passion for food that inspired her to start the business nearly thirteen years ago, and now she's celebrating its next chapter.

Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Marques is the oldest of three girls. At age seventeen, she traveled to the United States as an exchange student and attended high school, college and graduate school in Ohio before moving to Los Angeles for a career in business and real estate. The housing crash in 2008 prompted her and her wife, Vanessa Otero, to adjust their career paths, which ultimately led Marques to Colorado and back to her culinary roots.

Her mother was a skilled chef and avid baker, but chose to stay home to raise her family. Sadly, she passed away at age 49, unable to fully realize her culinary passions. "After she died, I kept my connection to my mom when I cooked, so whenever I cooked, I would talk to my mom. It just kind of grew from there," Marques says, adding that the business plan for Little Brazil was driven by a desire to honor her mother's legacy.

In 2011, Marques and Polly Furay purchased an existing Brazilian market called Emporio do Brasil in Westminster. Less than a year later, they rebranded and relocated the business to Gold's Marketplace in Wheat Ridge, where it was a community staple for over a decade.
click to enlarge boxes of truffles
You can pick up brigadeiros, Brazilian-style truffles, at Little Brazil.
Bruna Marques
When the business first launched, Marques recalls, it required long hours and an all-hands-on-deck mentality. She leaned on her business and accounting degrees in conjunction with Otero's law background to research the ins and outs of restaurant operations. She also handled the menu development and back-of-house while Furay, a Wheat Ridge high school teacher by day, tended to the register. "Vanessa, Polly, and I each brought a strength, and we were able to work together," Marques notes.

By 2019, they wanted to expand, but the pandemic put a pause on those plans. When dining rooms reopened and the team revisited their options, the landlord at Gold's Marketplace wasn't able to provide any additional space, so Marques knew it was time to move on once the lease expired.

She signed the lease for the new space, which is not far from Little Brazil's original home, in the summer of 2022 and began planning a full buildout. Little Brazil's last day at Gold's Marketplace was January 29, 2023, and construction began that September.

The project was on track for a mid-January opening, but on December 19, a fire broke out. An investigation revealed that a rag had been left behind by a construction worker who was staining wood planks for the entrance, and the heat from the sun shining through the window caused the rag to self-combust. The sprinkler system put out the flames and no one was injured, but the incident caused smoke damage and delayed the opening by several months.
click to enlarge people sitting at tables in a dining room
The community came out to support Little Brazil as it opened its new location.
Bruna Marques
Finally, on March 15, Little Brazil made its official comeback. Gone is the modest aesthetic of its previous home. The popular eatery now resides in a 3,000-square-foot space that includes a full-service bar, indoor dining area and an outdoor patio, for a total seating capacity of 250 people.

It was important to Marques to assemble a women-led team, so she enlisted general contractor Susan Lopez of Evan Reid Construction and Kris Hanson of Atmospheres Interior Design to bring the look and feel of Brazil to Colorado. The swirling black and white flooring mimics the pavement that lines the Copacabana beach sidewalk in Rio de Janeiro. A mix of wood, vibrant green tiles, colorful light fixtures and other accents fills the dining room to subtly evoke the lush Amazon rainforest. "I wanted to bring color, and I wanted to bring elements from Brazil that represent our country in a tasteful way," Marques says.

One deeply personal touch is the massive mural-style photograph of a beautiful cascade of colorful ribbons that covers one wall. The shot was taken by Marques's sister Bruna, who captured the scene at the eighteenth-century Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim in Salvador, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. Travelers venture to this destination to tie a ribbon to the fence surrounding the church and make their wishes.

With a larger staff and expanded hours — Little Brazil now offers breakfast, lunch and dinner — Furay has taken on more significant operational responsibilities. Marques's role has changed, too, and she brought on a new executive chef to help run the culinary side of the business.
click to enlarge a plate of rice and beans
Feijoada, a black bean stew with smoked sausage, pork tenderloin, cured beef, and bacon, served with rice, collard greens, yucca flour garnish, and fresh orange slices.
Bruna Marques
Brenno Camurugy is an accomplished chef and WSET Level 3 sommelier from Vitória, Brazil. He has previously worked in Michelin-starred kitchens and has an associate degree in molecular gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu Rio de Janeiro. He also completed courses on molecular gastronomy and haute cuisine at Harvard University taught in part by Daniel Humm, José Andrés and other culinary leaders.

Marques has enjoyed developing the revamped menu together with Camurugy, though her mother's influences can still be found in dishes like a marinated chicken special with fries that she'd often eat as a child, along with desserts such as flan, Pineapple Delight, cupcakes and a variety of brigadeiros (Brazilian-style truffles).

The menu also includes new breakfast additions, among them a gluten-free cheese-bread waffle served with Nutella, red guava-passion fruit sauce or requeijão (a Brazilian cream cheese). Marques prides herself on making 98 percent of Little Brazil's menu in-house, from empanadas and made-to-order steaks to the variety of sauces made with fruits sourced from Brazil.

The bar program features a variety of Brazilian beers, cachaça (Brazilian rum) and playful takes on classics such as the Rio Mule, made with Brazilian soda Guaraná Antarctica.

Marques travels back to São Paulo or other regions in Brazil every year to try new restaurants, observe local trends and find inspiration for new dishes. Currently in development is a traditional cuscuz breakfast from northeastern Brazil — corn couscous served with panela cheese, cilantro, shredded carne seca and pickled eggs.
click to enlarge various products stacked on shelves
Little Brazil's specialty market.
Bruna Marques
The space also includes a specialty market stocked with Brazilian coffees and teas, frozen cheeses and meats, cookies, chocolates and more.

The new Little Brazil will host live music on select weekends, as well, with a focus on uplifting Brazilian and woman-led acts. The series kicked off with performances by Marques's sister Tici, who performed while she was visiting from Salvador. Marques is also in talks with local musicians such as Boulder-based Brazilian band Ginga. 

As the business settles into its new space, Marques is thankful for the community's adventurous palate and continued support. “I actually am really very pleased with Wheat Ridge," she says. "We’ve worked with the community for the past twelve years that we’ve been here,” participating in everything from citywide celebrations to high school events.

“I think that’s why our reopening has been so successful,” she concludes. “People are so excited — not only to see the new space, but also to try new dishes and have some of the old flavors back.”

Little Brazil is located at 7333 West 38th Avenue in Wheat Ridge and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The market will open at 10:30 a.m. on weekdays. For more information, visit littlebrazilco.com or follow @littlebrazilco on Instagram.
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