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Giraffas Plans Florida Expansion of Its Fast-Casual Brazilian Empire

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Giraffas' fast-casual dining experience might just ruin other casual eateries for you. The quality of the menu seems too good to be described as "fast," yet diners are in and out of the restaurant in less than an hour, even when ordering steak, fish, and pasta dishes.

Founded by Carlos Guerra, the Giraffas chain boasts more than 450 locations in Brazil. With such widespread success, it's no wonder that a North American expansion was conceived. After the first Giraffas opened in North Miami in 2011, three more South Florida locations sprouted up in less than two years, including one in Pinecrest and one in midtown.

We recently sat down with Giraffas' marketing director, Carlos Vanegas, who shared some details about the restaurant's menu, origins, and plans for further expansion, as well as the importance of social media.

While Giraffas restaurants in Brazil have more in common with fast-food restaurants, the company knew it had to step up it game to compete in the U.S. market against fast-casual chains like Pei Wei, Chipotle, and Panera.

As Vanegas explained, the menu is based on Brazilian cuisine but consists of items that appeal on a more universal level. One very Brazilian aspect is the cuts of meat, which differ from American cuts. We tried two, the extremely popular picanha and the contra filet. Both were high quality, perfectly cooked, and quite flavorful -- thick cuts of steak with three side dishes for less than $12.

Another typically Brazilian dish is the stroganoff, a Brazilian take on the Russian classic. This stroganoff spinoff came about from the mingling of Brazilians and the large Russian expat population in their country, explained Vanegas. Giraffas offers a choice of shrimp ($11.90), chicken ($8.90), or filet mignon ($11.90). The savory, buttery sauce and fresh mushrooms were a highlight in the shrimp and filet mignon versions.

Another menu standout was the quinoa, greens, and chicken salad ($11.90). Plentiful, healthful, and insanely tasty, the salad was a definite surprise. Brazilians aren't usually recognized for their talent with greens, but Giraffas' quinoa puts most health-food or vegetarian restaurants to shame.

Giraffas recently opened in Orlando, and after only three weeks, that restaurant's sales are on par with those at the North Miami location, Vanegas says.

"One thing that has worked really, really well for us is the social media," Vanegas explained. "The main purpose of Groupon is exposure. You should be happy if you pay for your food, if you pay for your costs. You get to expose hundreds, if not thousands, to your restaurant, which is priceless."

Giraffas will open a second location in Orlando and has plans for 35 more locations.

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