Operations

Fogo de Chao is not your average steakhouse

The Brazilian churrasco concept, in fact, is dropping “steakhouse” from its name as it looks to highlight its unique service style and varied menu.
Fogo de Chao exterior
Fogo de Chao is known for its fire-roasted meats and buffet-like Market Table. / Photo courtesy of Fogo de Chao

Don’t let the name fool you: Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steak House is not really a steakhouse.

Sure, there’s steak on the menu. Its prices are comparable to a steakhouse’s. And, well, it does say “steakhouse” right in the name. But a closer look reveals that the similarities end there.

“Our guests see us as a steakhouse,” CEO Barry McGowan said. “But they don’t use us like a steakhouse.”

That’s why the 58-unit chain known for skewered meats carved tableside is dropping “Steak House” from its name. Going forward, it will be known simply as Fogo de Chao, which it feels is a better reflection of its unique style and food.

The Brazilian export’s differentiation begins with its meat. Its core menu item is served churrasco-style: fire-roasted and sliced to order at the table. Customers pay a fixed price to try as many different cuts as they want. Options include pork and chicken as well as beef.

But Fogo’s menu caters to more than just carnivores. The chain offers an unusually large selection of plant-based items at its buffet-like Market Table, which includes seasonal salads and soups, vegetables and charcuterie. Fogo’s a la carte entrees, meanwhile, are entirely meat-free, featuring fish, a cauliflower steak and a new seared tofu and miso black bean pasta. Unlimited access to the Market Table is included with both the full churrasco experience and the entrees.

The wealth of non-meat options is a nod to Fogo’s audience, which skews younger and female. Its customer base is 87% Gen Z, millennial and Gen X and 41% women, McGowan said. The variety is designed to keep them interested. 

“It makes it fun and, with the demographic, it’s just so much more engaging,” McGowan said. 

The sheer size of Fogo’s menu makes it unique. Its bill of fare is comparable to the massive selection at The Cheesecake Factory, McGowan said, while the restaurants operate more like a Chipotle, with gauchos acting as both cooks and servers. But it doesn’t compete directly with either of those concepts, nor does it view steak chains like Gibson’s or The Capital Grille as rivals.  

“We could sit by the best steakhouse and actually be an alternative use and actually complement that use,” McGowan said. “So we just play differently within a mix of restaurants.”

Customers tend to visit Fogo more often and for a wider variety of occasions than a steakhouse, a strategy the brand has actively pursued over the past decade. It recently revamped its bar program to appeal to couples and happy hour fans, for instance. It has brunch and lunch menus, including a $15 “Gaucho Lunch” that features bottomless servings from the Market Table. And it has courted convenience with a to-go menu of meats and sides as well as cuts that can be grilled at home and special packages for holidays, celebrations and date nights.

The different use cases are why Fogo de Chao does three times the traffic of an average fine-dining steakhouse, McGowan said. The chain has also notched nine straight years of positive traffic growth, which is reflected in its average unit volumes: As of November, they were more than $10 million, according to a federal securities filing, up from $7.9 million the year before. That puts it in Cheesecake Factory territory. 

The chain, which began in Brazil in 1979 and came to the U.S. in 1997, is hoping to parlay the strong performance into an initial public offering and eventually a much bigger footprint. It has 58 domestic restaurants today but believes it can one day reach as many as 300.

And at those new restaurants, “you won’t see ‘Brazilian Steak House’ on our name,” McGowan said. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Fogo de Chao locations in the U.S. 

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