Next Wednesday, August 21st, Joe de Souza, a native of Governador Valadares, Minas Gerais, Brazil, and the owner of Modelo Bakery in Magoun Square, will be teaching folks to make a delectable Brazilian feast (see below for class description and ticket info). On the menu: pão de queijo (addiction-forming, puffy cheese breads made with cassava flour), grilled picanha steak with the traditional accompaniments of rice and tomato vinaigrette, and for dessert, Açaí na tigela (known stateside as açaí bowls – this dessert is like a frozen açai pudding).
Since emigrating to Somerville in 1988, Joe de Souza has opened two successful locations of the marvelous Modelo bakery, and now the Modelo Butcher Market (501 Medford St.), also in Magoun Square. It’s a neighborhood market specializing in all manner of meat that is custom-cut to the customer’s preference and even has exotic offerings such as frog legs.
We sat down with the man behind our favorite snack destination to chat about starting a business in Somerville, the difference between sucos and smoothies, and the x-tudo—the most decadent burger in town.
Nibble: Why did you choose this location for Modelo?
Joe: Somerville is my home! It’s where I came when I first came to the US 25 years ago. I never moved out! Even if I come to some other place, I always come back. And everything is done over here. And the second place that we opened up in Everett, that’s because there’s a huge Brazilian community in Everett.
Nibble: Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
A very small one, but yes. We’ve been trying very hard. Besides the bakeries and the butcher market, I’m a painting contractor. We do commercial work. Not in Somerville because of course, here there’s not the demand for it. But we’ve been doing the painting business for 15 years. We get a lot of stuff going on.
Nibble: I think starting your own business is scary to most people. It’s a big risk. And I think it’s interesting that immigrants are the one who start businesses. What is your take on it?
Joe: The reason is why immigrants start businesses is that we come here for that reason – to do something, to make a difference. We come to do something. So everything that you do is a profit. There’s not much to lose. Most of the immigrants who come over here, they come with their hand in their pockets – there’s not much to lose! So you gotta take a chance. Why not? Sometimes you might think should I do it or not? But if you’re afraid of doing anything, you’re not going to go anywhere, you know? And most of the Brazilian people I know, they’re very successful because of this reason: they came here and they focused on something.
Which I did, too, I came here for one reason. And I’m not planning to leave without actually achieving my goal. So that’s hard. You never stop. Unfortunately, it’s not going to stop, I know this. You do one thing, then you do another, there’s always something else. But that’s life.
Nibble: Can you describe some specialties you have here at Modelo?
Joe: We have the pão de queijo that we are going to make at the class. We sell about 2,000 of those little ones daily! Those are from Minas Gerais. It comes from my state because of the cheese. Minas Gerais is the best state in making cheese. And so, if you like pão de queijo, they call you minero – meaning you’re from Minas Gerais!
Nibble: Then I think I’m a minero!
Joe: That’s where they come from! We have other Brazilian pastries that people love, for example, the chicken pies – coxinha. It’s a fried dough and it’s a process to make! First of all you cook the dough, then you roll it up with the chicken, and then you fry it. We also do cakes, you know, wedding cakes, birthday cakes, with the Brazilian recipe. And we have the smoothies, lots of different fruit juices.
Nibble: Are those called sucos?
Joe: Sucos – the difference between the smoothie and the suco, is that the suco is made with water, and the smoothie with milk. With milk, we call it vitamina, which means vitamin. It’s a funny way to say it. We can do either here; it’s just a matter of adding either water or milk.
Nibble: What are some of the more exotic flavors you have, that non-Brazilians might not be familiar with?
Joe: We have the açaí, we also have coco, which is a coconut, coming from the east side of the country, cashew and caja. [a small fruit resembling a mango and tasting like one, too!] We also have the cacau – the fruit that they use to make chocolate. The açaí, that’s what we’re going to use for the bowls in the class! Unfortunately, over here in the US, you’re not going to find the fruit, you have to get it frozen.
Nibble: And you also have all kinds of lunch options to order, right?
Joe: Yes! We have sandwiches, which are excellent. One specialty is the X-tudo, which It’s a hamburger patty which is spiced, ham, bacon, egg, corn, potato sticks, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.
We also do have the Brazilian food here. Traditional Brazilian food is rice, beans salad, and steak, chicken or pork that’s made on the grill. In Brazil, anywhere you go, you’ll find restaurants that serve food like this; there are also plenty of restaurants like this around here, including the upscale Fogo de Chao, which opened last year in Copley Square. Places like this have an all-you-can-eat salad bar, and the meat which they cut on your table, you know, the churrasco. They call it rodizio. And that’s typical Brazilian food!
Nibble: I like the system too, where you put up a sign on your table that says “Basta” when you’re full!
Joe: Yeah, they give you that. The worst thing that can happen with 99% of the Brazilian people, is if you go in a place like that and they don’t treat you well, they don’t bring the meat to your table all the time, even if you don’t want it, that makes you upset! You never go back! They give you a choice from 14-16 different meat, in cut. So you should have a chance to try everything, to see if you like it.
Nibble: Modelo also seems to be a social place for people to meet?
Joe: Yes, because we have repeating customers. And they know each other, and the employees, it’s a good relationship between them. We know when certain people will be in the bakery. So they talk to each other, cry to each other about their problems…
Nibble: Can you talk about the type of products that you carry in the Modelo Butcher Market? And in particular, the meat!
Joe: The idea is to have a neighborhood grocery store. We didn’t turn it into a Brazilian place. I’d say we have half and half, 50/50 Brazilian and American people who go there. We can cut the meat the Brazilian way, or we can cut it the way the customer asks, because it’s fresh meat. You’re paying for it, you get whatever you want!
You can pretty much find everything. Maybe not to fill up a cart, but to take home. Pasta, sauce, spices, potato chips, drinks, ice cream, frozen food, prepared foods. We make our own chicken salad, tuna salad. We have a nice deli set-up. We sell by the pound, and we make specialty sandwiches over there—turkey, roast beef, ham and cheese, Italian.
Nibble: And do you have fresh produce?
Joe: And also we do carry fresh produce. Once again it’s a small place, we buy enough for the day. The next morning, we get some more delivered to us. So you have the fresh produce, groceries, a little bit of everything. A lot of Brazilian food. Which is the same thing that we eat over here, but imported. And the meat. We have chicken, pork, beef, lamb. Goat, alligator! Frog legs. Exotic!
Visit Joe’s businesses & get a taste for yourself!
Modelo Bakery & Coffee House
508 Medford St
Somerville, MA 02145
Monday-Saturday: 6am to 8pm
Sunday: 7am to 1pm
798 Broadway Everett, MA 02149
Monday – Saturday: 6am to 10pm
Sunday: 7am to 9pm
Modelo Butcher Market
501 Medford St
Somerville, MA 02145
Monday-Saturday: 7am to 10pm
check them out on facebook
And here is information about Joe’s upcoming cooking class:
A bite of Brazil, Wed. August 21st, 6:30-9pm, Kitchen Inc, 201 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143
Buy tix here
Joe de Souza is the owner of Modelo Bakery & Café in Magoun Square in Somervillle and Everett. He hails from Governador Valadares, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Minas Gerais is known as the state with the best cheese in Brazil – a fact that might not surprise you if you’ve eaten Modelo’s delicious pão de queijo (cheese puffs made with cassava flour). Joe will teach us how to make these irresistible cheesy breads along with a marinated & grilled picanha steak (seen up top). Picanha is one of the most prized cuts in Brazil, and is a staple in churasco, the Portuguese word for Brazilian barbeque. Picanha, while little used by North American butchers, goes by the name of “rump cap” or “top sirloin cap”. No one is serious about their meat like Brazilians, and picanha is a juicy, premium cut that you don’t want to miss.
We will accompany our Brazilian barbeque with the traditional rice (cooked with garlic) and tomato vinaigrette (made with onions, peppers, oil, salt and vinegar – a staple at any Brazilian restaurant). We will conclude our meal with Açaí na tigela (literally translating to Açai in the bowl; this dessert is like a frozen açai pudding). Açai products became an American craze once folks caught onto their potential nutritional benefits from high levels of antioxidants and fiber. Joe will show us why their delicious taste in traditional bowl form is still their biggest attraction!