Santo Grao Café

In May 2003, New Zealand born Marco Kerkmeester left behind his corporate job at IBM, and built a café on Sao Paulo’s Rua Oscar Friere dubbed “Santo Grao”. What began as a single café in an upscale area of Sao Paulo has expanded into seven cafés spread throughout two major Brazilian cities. The café was founded on the philosophy that there is much more to a café than grabbing a good cup of coffee. Marco believes that within each person, whether a customer or employee, there is a santo grao, or  “holy grain”, that flourishes in the right environment. Santo Grao was built with a philosophy that emphasizes “to be present”, and whose business is coffee, people and ambience.  

Walking down the Rodeo Drive of Latin America, pedestrians come across a bustling café on the corner of Rua Preta and Oscar Friere. Inside Santo Grao’s flagship café lays the heart of the coffee production: the roaster. This chic establishment features a large air-conditioned terrace with glass doors overlooking the street, and a cozy lounge inside, perfect for those who want a quiet moment. Customer’s can enjoy the warm and inviting ambience over one of the award winning brews: the Pure Espresso, Iced Frappe Coffee or the Cappuccino. In addition to the coffee, regular customers can’t resist grabbing Belize style ceviche, a nutella mousse crepe or the popular homemade carrot cake.

The emphasis of remaining in the present moment has allowed Marco to create an intimate community within each Santo Grao café. His belief that the Santo Grao experience should engage all of the customer’s senses contributes to its growing popularity throughout the country.

Mood of Living: Q&A

Mood of Living: What inspired you to call your business “Santo Grao?”
Marco Kerlmeester: Santo Grao is a play on words meaning the “Holy Grain” or “Saintly Bean.” We believe that everybody has a “Saint”, a “seed” within. Our mission is to create environments and products for this seed to flourish.

MOL: Where are your cafes located? 
MK: There are 7 cafe in Sao Paulo and one in Curitiba, Brazil. Each is run by a partner who started as an employee. The Flagship store and roastery is located at Rua Oscar Freire 413, Latin America´s “Rodeo Drive.”

MOL: What is your mission?
MK: “To Be Present.” To live in the now. To be resolved in all that we are and do.

MOL: What makes Santo Grao unique?
MK: It is people that create that ambience, that create our food, our coffee and give service. The people in our team are real people. Santo Grao is not unique.  But our people and culture are.

Santo Grao Café Brazil

MOL: What is the inspiration behind the idea of Santo Grao?  
MK: I believe in the potential in every individual and wanted to create a space in which people can realize this potential. Conversations and communication facilitate this realization. As does just sitting alone and reflecting. Why not over a cup of coffee?  Or Lunch?

MOL: Do you engage in any social entrepreneurship/community outreach/partnership?  
MK: Santo Grão is the sum of  230 young people working with us. Each one, a current or future leader in their communities, in their families [and] in their socio groups. Instead of Santo Grão reaching out, there are 230 people learning, growing and making a difference. We invest heavily in systems, education and tools such as coaching and neuro-linguistic programming to help them realize this.

MOL: When was the moment you realized the idea could really work?    
MK: This moment has not yet come. And the idea may never be realized. Knowing this, knowing that Santo Grao may not work, creates the passion for learning and growth. For finding better ways, better products and for doing things better.

MOL: What are some of the challenges encountered at the beginning? What was the process in finding solutions?  
MK: On the first weekend after opening, a large photo of our cafe appeared on the front page of the lifestyle section of one Sao Paulo´s major newspapers. “The New Barons of Coffee”. We had a massive queue outside, without a hostess to manage it. We didn´t know how to attend the customers inside. Our kitchen didn’t have product. We gave bad service. And we only made breakeven revenue targets. What did we do?  We got up the next morning, and did it again. A little better.

 

“We want to create environments in which people feel life and live.” 

 

MOL: What are some of the obstacles faced on a daily basis? 
MK: Every day when we open the doors, we do not have a single customer. What is it that I must do now for me, my team and my customers to be more present? It may be to find a better queue management system.  It may be to improve our menu. It may be to give feedback and training to someone on the team – or to a disagreeable customer. It may be to respond to a questionnaire from a journalist. Now is now.

MOL: What is the future vision for Santo Grao?   
MK: I learned some time ago that I am unable to see the future. I have no “future vision” for Santo Grão. I do see a world in which people are more realized. More complete.

MOL: What imprint on the world does Santo Grao wish to leave? Why?
MK: We don’t want to “leave” anything. Not even an imprint. We want a world at peace, resolved. For people to have the feeling of “oh…  yeah.”

MOL: How does the company cater to elevating the quality of life?
MK: Life´s quality doesn’t need to be elevated. Life is fantastic. We want to create environments in which people feel life and live. In which people can sense what life is. Now and always.

MOL: How are the customer’s senses engaged during his/her dining experience?
MK: We try to create an environment in which the client is “present”, “in the moment”, in an elevated stage of consciousness. The product or service is not the objective, the customers sense of being is. With our product and service, with our music and physical space, we try to facilitate that sense of being, not to distract, or detract from it.

MOL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit amidst the bustle of Sao Paulo?
MK: In my free time, to find quiet space, I look within. This can be as a customer in one of our cafes, at our weekend farm, beneath a pile of kids in our garden, at the helm of a sailing boat, hunting cafe ideas overseas, building a tree house at the farm, [and] horse trekking anywhere or cross country skiing with friends. But mostly, I like to escape to the family fazenda in Tiete.

Santo Grao Café Brazil

Images of Marco’s fazenda in Tiente.

MOL: Any Influential figure/organization you look up to?
MK: I am a great fan of Socrates and Albert Einstein. Both knew that they knew nothing. I know that I do not know how to make an excellent coffee. The drink that we put in the cup does little justice to the sweet taste of the ripe coffee cherry or the fruit, [or the] caramel and chocolate aromas of freshly ground beans.

MOL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from who?
MK: Probably the best advice I ever received was from my Mum. She always told me, “Love makes you grow”. It works for all things. From friendship and family through to making a better cup of coffee.

MOL: What is something you know now that you wish you knew before:
MK: There are more things that I wish that I did not think that I “know” than there are things that I wish that I knew. This “knowledge” serves as a handbrake to new possibilities. A lack of innocence leads to a fear of trying.

MOL: What advice can you give anyone interested in starting his or her own career in the restaurant industry?
MK: Be your own best customer. Make and do all that you love. If you love your product, chances are your customers will too. And if you don’t love it, do differently.

MOL: What is your favorite dish from the restaurant?
MK: We have a fantastic Penne com Salvia; penne with sage, parmesan, cherry tomatoes and rocket. It was created by one of our kitchen hands and goes against the grain of almost every chef. Soul food at its best.

MOL: What is your signature dish that you enjoy cooking for friends/family?
MK: I love impromptu lunch in the garden with friends, throwing together a chicken, mango and avocado salad with a balsamic and chutney dressing.

Santo Grao Café Brazil

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Photos Courtesy of Santo Grao Café

Marco Kerkmeester Santo Grao Café Brazil

Marco Kerkmeester, Owner