By CHRISTIAN WHITTLE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Sometimes, it takes the right opportunity to come along for someone to take the leap and start their own business. Other times, it takes losing everything.
In 2008, Daniel “Chin” Yoshimi, owner of Santa Barbara’s Brasil Arts Cafe and a martial arts instructor of more than 25 years, was teaching a Capoeira seminar in Boston when his wife Jen called to tell him that the Tea Fire was raging through Montecito and Santa Barbara.
“My wife calls me and says, ‘The hill’s on fire. I am in Goleta right now, but I don’t know what’s going on.’ She was seven months pregnant with my first child,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
He knew his family was safe and there was nothing more he could do, but standing in the bathroom at the gym, Mr. Yoshimi had a breakdown. He could sense their house was lost.
With their lives turned upside down, the Yoshimi’s decided to make the best of their situation. Mr. Yoshimi, who was born in Santos, Brasil, ran a martial arts studio in Santa Barbara since moving there with Jen, but saw a piece missing in the city’s culinary community.
“We always thought about bringing the Brasilian culture here. If you go down to L.A., San Francisco, San Diego, it’s very popular. They all have one and we saw that there was none in Santa Barbara,” Mr. Yoshimi.
Seeing this need, the two were inspired to create something unique: a restaurant/fitness studio community space for Brasilian culture.
With the help of Mrs. Yoshimi’s father and some other backers, the couple opened Brasil Arts Cafe at 1230 State Street in 2013.The cafe has become Santa Barbara’s Brasilian community hub, with a kitchen built from scratch and a large studio in the back for a variety of classes.
“It’s been a rollercoaster. Whoever lives in Santa Barbara knows how it’s been. It’s a challenging business, but we’re really happy to offer this Brasilian space here in town. It’s hard work but we love it,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
The Yoshimi’s created the menu at Brasil Arts Cafe as a sort of educational experience for their customers.
“Food is a huge part in any culture. Wherever you go, you want to know what they eat,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
Brasil is a large country, said Mr. Yoshimi, and therefore has different cuisines in the north, south, and inland.
“We decided to get a little bit of each to show a little bit of Brasil in all the aspect of food,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
On their menu you can find traditional Brasilian fare like moqueca, a coconut and fish dish from the North-East, and churrasco, a sirloin steak from Southern Brasil where barbeque is popular. The cafe also offers an assortment of Açai bowls, juices, and smoothies, as well as some imported Brasilian candies, coffees, and other goodies to remind Brasilians of home.
“We are a place where the Brasilians that live in town and the students here, international students, they miss home and they come here and say, ‘Oh, there’s a little chocolate here! There’s a little thing!’, so it’s always nice to have that,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
Move away from the sunny front and towards the cool, dark back and you’ll find the cafe’s spacious studio. Throughout the week Brasil Arts Cafe hosts classes and events Capoeira, West African Dance, drumming, Samba, and more. Classes are typically 10 to 15 people, and Brasil Arts Cafe has 35 children signed up for their kids programs.
The cafe also hosts events, like Brasilian parties one friday a month featuring live music where the restaurant gets packed with locals eating and dancing the night away. The Cafe also features a variety of music other than Brasilian , like Cuban,
For annual celebrations like New Years and Brasilian Carnival, Brasil Arts Cafe is the place to be.
“That’s when the place really shines up,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
On a typical week, the best time to visit is breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sundays, when the cafe, with its doors open wide to the beautiful corner of State and Victoria, bustles with food, dancers, and friends sharing a smoothie or a cup of coffee.
The Cafe has become a home away from home for Santa Barbara’s Brasilians and those passing through, said Mr. Yoshimi.
“We get a lot of Brasilian tourists that are traveling who are like, ‘oh my gosh, thank god you’re here! We needed some Brasilian food.’ It’s very rewarding,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
If you’re looking for a good workout, delicious Brasilian fare, and the best spot for Bossa nova in Santa Barbara, it’s waiting for you at Brasil Arts Cafe.
“If you want to find a little piece of Brasil, it’s here,” said Mr. Yoshimi.
To find Brasil Arts Cafe’s full menu and calendar of classes and events, visit brasilartscafe.com.