Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Brazilian Pereira family finds help from CVTC as they learn our language and start a business
The Piera family of Eau Claire, originally from Brazil, pose inside their Banbury Place kitchen in Eau Claire, the home of the their Montebelo Brazilian Cheese bread company. From left are Geraldo Jr., Miriam, Tanara and Geraldo, Sr. All but Tanara either completed or are currently enrolled in CVTC’s English Language Learner program and Geraldo, Jr. is a CVTC IT-Software Developer student.
Becoming familiar with the language and culture of a new nation is challenging enough for immigrants. Add to that the challenge of starting a new food-related business during a pandemic and economic downturn, and you arrive at what the lives of the Pereira family members are currently.
Miriam, 60, and Geraldo Pereira, Sr., 61, arrived in the Chippewa Valley last year from their native Brazil. They are taking English Language Learner classes through Chippewa Valley Technical College, which is helping them learn the language of America, and also learn the customs as well. Most of the rest of their time is taken up with Montebelo, their new business making and packaging “pao do queijo,” a Brazilian cheese bread now sold at nine area grocery stores and supermarkets.
Fortunately, they are not on their own in America. Their son, Geraldo, Jr., 30, a CVTC IT-Software Developer student who previously went through the ELL program, is helping them adapt, as does their daughter, Tanara, 34. She has been in America for about 15 years and operates her own business here.
“The initial idea and also the investment for Montebelo came from Tanara,” Geraldo explained. “My parents came with the bread-making process.”
The cheese bread is a traditional Brazilian food, and family members were surprised when they could not find it here.
“I was born in the state in Brazil where the bread was first made,” Miriam said, partly with her son acting as interpreter. “My mother would make it and taught me to make it. I have been making it since I was very small. Cheese bread is consumed for breakfast. You can find it in any coffee shop.”
It is a gluten-free bread, with tapioca flour as the main ingredient. Montebelo’s bread is sold as small frozen formed pieces of the raw dough, which consumers bake at home. The resulting pieces have a crusty outside and a chewy inside, a much different texture than an American biscuit. The cheese flavor is unmistakable and a cornerstone of the product, which uses cheddar in place of a specific Brazilian cheese not available here.
“This kind of cheese bread is easy to make yourself at home,” Miriam said.
Tanara was the first to come to America as a foreign exchange student at an Eau Claire Christian high school. She came back and and worked in Florida for a time before moving back to Eau Claire to settle and earn her citizenship.
“I came to learn English, and it was easier to be in a place where I know someone,” Geraldo, Jr. said. “My sister gave me all the support to come, and acclimate me to the city. And I could also be close to her after many years apart.”
Geraldo, Jr. said CVTC has been an integral part of his family’s adaptation to life in America.
“Tanara heard about CVTC’s program for English learning, and I had just arrived here and was looking for a place to have experience with the language,” Geraldo said. “It was amazing. It was not just learning the language, but also the culture of the place, like the habits of the people here.”
Geraldo, Jr. returned to Brazil to finish his schooling there, then came back on a student visa to the IT-Software Developer program. The time seemed ripe for the parents to come join their children. Moving to America was long a dream for Geraldo, Sr., 61, much less so for Miriam, 60, she confesses.
“I wanted to come to America for two reasons, - to stay close to my daughter and have a better life quality in a developed country,” Geraldo, Sr. said.
Miriam, though still early in her learning process in ELL, has had experiences similar to what her son felt.
“It gives me a chance to talk with classmates in English, and that helps me improve,” she said, with her son’s assistance. “The teacher also helps us learn the culture of America, and to find public services we might need. CVTC has been very good for me. My teachers Julie (Baker), Lynnette (Neibauer), and LuAnn (Sorenson) are great and help me a lot.”
The idea of going into business was not new to the family, which previously ran a bookstore and a gift shop in Brazil. Tanara is the owner of Eau Claire Body Care, a beauty treatments and hair removal service.
“I had to think of an idea for my parents to make a living in America,” Tanara said. “They were entrepreneurs in Brazil, and I thought it would be nice to be business owners in America. I've always been passionate about culture and this seems to be kind of a foodie type of place. And I thought, why not introduce something that is cultural, which is the cheese bread.”
Geraldo, Jr. put together a business plan and the family found kitchen space in Banbury Place. He was involved in getting his parents started but is unable to help with operations of the business due to his student visa status.
“The place was available at an affordable price,” Geraldo, Jr. said. “Tanara knows the owner and was nice enough to say, ‘Hey, you can store your things there. You can start to pay when you start your production.’ ”
It was difficult getting started. Geraldo, Jr. explained that as the pandemic started to grow, grocery stores were concentrated on staples, not new products. They started with Just Local Foods in Eau Claire and the Menomonie Food Co-op.
Tanara’s familiarity with the Eau Claire area and her business contacts were invaluable. The family received help from people like the owner of the local Chip Magnet salsa products. Tanara got the word out on social media and Geraldo, Jr. used the skills he learned at CVTC to set up their website.
Getting the product into the local Woodman’s and Festival Foods supermarkets was the next big step, and the product has been slowly growing ever since.
“The support of local businesses, the community support of friends and family around here has been amazing,” Geraldo, Jr. said.
And that goes for the help the family has received from CVTC.
“My parents are still learning - and I'm still learning English, but they're way back in the beginning where I was in 2012 learning for the first time,” Gerald, Jr. said. “CVTC is helping them like they helped me. It’s really amazing to have that support given directly to you. We are people wanting to learn.”
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