How Restaurant Brands Can Leverage Both Tradition And Innovation To Win

In the always evolving restaurant industry, one fact remains constant: consumer demands are always changing. Often, they are influenced by trends affecting other industries. The experience economy is certainly such a trend. According to Eventbrite, one in four millennial consumers would rather pay for an experience rather than a product. This is a very post-Industrial Revolution idea that occurs when consumers are given the ability to share experiential currency, which they do day after day, minute by minute, on social media. They share posts of restaurants they’ve been to, Instagramming their plated-to-perfection dish, all with the intent to gain social media cred.

However, the restaurant industry is one that also earns credibility from traditional values, namely quality and authenticity. Consumers of all generations expect high-quality ingredients, high-quality service and a high level of authenticity when it comes to the brand and its brand story. The brands that are winning with modern consumers mix both digital innovation with these traditional pillars.

Fogo de Chão is one such example. I spoke with the brand’s CEO, Larry Johnson, to learn more about the restaurant’s background and how experiences, both innovative and traditional, play a role in its success.

Jeff Fromm: What is the backstory of your brand? What makes it special or unique?

Larry Johnson: Fogo de Chão was founded in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1979 by two sets of brothers who had grown up on traditional Southern Brazilian farms, learning the authentic culinary techniques of churrasco – the centuries-old art of grilling simply seasoned meats over an open fire – from their fathers and grandfathers.  In the early 80’s, Fogo expanded to São Paulo and eventually to Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities. Today, Fogo is the most well-known churrascaria in Brazil.

The first U.S. Fogo opened in 1997 in the Dallas area. It was thanks to President George H.W. Bush, who was a brand fan and advised that Fogo come to U.S. and open in his home state of Texas. The Fogo de Chão Brazilian dining experience can now be found at 50 locations throughout Brazil, the U.S., Mexico and the Middle East.

The brand is unique because it was a pioneer in bringing the churrascaria concept to guests in not only the West but around the world.  This experience includes high-quality, authentic Brazilian cuisine and a service model called ‘espeto corrido’ (Portuguese for ‘continuous service’).  Every table is a chef’s table at Fogo. As a result, guests may customize the experience to his or her own preference – they set the pace, choose any or all of our meat cut options, and enjoy an array of dishes from our seasonal market table and drinks from our extensive list of cocktails, spirits and wines. Overall, the brand offers a unique, high-end and high-value dining experience for guests that also translates into an exceptionally efficient model for the business.