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Food du Jour. Fogo de Chao. Deals by the hundreds are made over steaks every day in Houston, many of them by boot-sportin' cattle barons. But there's another kind of cowboy roaming the business range in this Texas town, and he's not from these parts. Called a gaucho, he hails from Rio Grande do Sul, a region in southern Brazil. With him he brings his country's centuries-old culinary tradition of the churrasco, a style of cooking, eating and camarderie. Houston's modern-day gaucho is found at a richly appointed churrascaria, or steakhouse, called Fogo de Chao (pronounced foe-goe de SHOW). The dining guest's hosts are a team of Brazilian-born gauchos who slow-roast a staggering variety of beautiful meats over an open flame and present their works on skewers, slicing these tableside to each guest's request. As the gauchos roam the dining rooms, each guest turns his or her own round dining card to green, meaning "I'm ready for food," or red, which tells the gaucho to wait. When the card's green side is showing, the service comes fast and furious. The vast size of Fogo de Chao means the restaurant is ideal for business entertaining. In fact, says director of operations Selma Oliveira, the primary customer on weekdays is the business traveler. "We have a lot of corporate accounts, and our typical groups number 25 to 50 in size," says Oliveira. "Private business functions are popular both at lunch and dinner." The restaurant has a large space that can accommodate 100 people for a seated dinner, and the area can be divided in any number of ways. Oliveira says that groups can best be accommodated by booking well in advance. The restaurant's everyday gaucho-service style fits the needs of business functions well, so special menu arrangements are unnecessary. Whether for a party of two or 50, it's business as usual, Oliveira says. Fogo de Chao's lavish salad bar is ideal for vegetarials, and there's a fixed-price option for that. Meeting planners can easily budget for their events, and set a price they wish to spend on extras, like wine and sweets. "If groups want to pre-select alcoholic beverages and desserts, that's fine, too." The Fogo de Chao meeting clientele typically becomes repeat customer, Oliveira says, because the group members find they enjoy such an authentic dining experience. "We present a unique cuisine and culture to the guest, and there's so much fun interaction between the gauchos and the guests," she says. "Large groups love it because there's so much to talk about. There's always good conversation." Last year, Fogo de Chao received the Hot Concepts! Award from Nation's Restaurant News, as well as a Wine Spectator Award. Other restaurant locations are in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Beverly Hills and Brazil.


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