You can take the girl out of Brazil, but you can’t take Brazil out of the girl. After being transferred to the United States by an American company, Flavia Takahashi-Flores missed pão de queijo (Portuguese for “cheese bread”), a common snack item in Brazil.
A food engineer who had been trained in the whole process of food manufacturing from research and development, through the biological and mechanical aspects of food science, to packaging, Flavia was homesick for something very simple.
“As I learned more about American culture, I became convinced that P*DE*Q would be a good fit. So I started to work on recipes. Pão de queijo calls for a Brazilian cheese only made in a certain part of Brazil. And the tapioca base is mostly common in tropical countries. So my goal was to create a recipe, true to the original, that could be made with American and local ingredients. I felt that if I found my golden formula and if I could visualize the manufacturing, I would open my business.”
For her MBA in entrepreneurship at Fresno State University, one of her projects centered on the company she hoped to form. “All the while I was tweaking my formula, and my husband, Rogelio Flores, who has worked in the food industry his entire life, was my taster.”
Flavia explains that tapioca flour comes from a root that is also called cassava or yucca. “It’s an alternative to potatoes, with a lower glycemic index. Indigenous people from Mexico to Brazil use it, and also in Asia. When dough made with tapioca flour is heated, the molecules of the tapioca get elastic, acting as if there were gluten in it, which there isn’t.”
Science aside, at her first food show, the Fresno Food Expo, this new tapioca-based cheese bread with its unique crispy/chewy texture was the hit of the show.
In 2011 Flavia opened P*DE*Q Corner, a combination retail store and manufacturing space. “Because pão de queijo is new to Americans, this helped me connect directly to consumers. It was a place for them to learn and buy. And I added new flavors to the original one – Jalapeño and Carrot Raisin. In 2012 I added Bacon and Chocolate.”
She also developed her food service business, selling to catering clients and restaurants. A big break-through was Starbucks’ interest. “They loved our product, and of course, it’s wonderful with coffee!”
Now, with her supply chain complete and her manufacturing process set up, she’s ready to fill orders of any size. And there are all sorts of new products in her head. “Because of my Japanese ancestry, I would love to see a distributor take P*DE*Q to Japan.”
“Pão de queijo has always been part of my life,” Flavia said. “I love the softness of the product, the savory taste, and how it satisfies my hunger. In America, I missed having pão de queijo, especially on days with a full schedule and little time to eat.”
Born in Brazil, pão de queijo grew up in the U.S.