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Fogo De Chao Is Reinventing Itself With Healthier Menu Options to Attract Younger Diners

CEO Barry McGowan tells us about some big changes afoot at the growing Brazilian chain.
FACT CHECKED BY Meaghan Cameron

What you think of as the Brazillian steakhouse down the street wants to be much more. In fact, the company Fogo De Chão has decided to drop "steakhouse" from its name entirely at its new restaurants, to attract a larger, younger audience. In addition, it is revamping its menu to offer healthier options and to appeal to a more plant-based crowd, as it seeks to expand to new markets.

The chain, known for its massive servings of meat presented on skewers Rodizio style for one fixed price, currently has 58 locations across the United States, but its plans for a massive expansion are kicking into high gear. "We know long term we can have 600 restaurants in America," says Barry McGowan, CEO of Fogo de Chão.

The plan is to expand wherever younger families are concentrated because McGowan has seen the mass appeal the chain has with these groups. "Our demographic is 87% Millennial and Gen Z," he says. "We are a whole different occasion than a fine-dining steakhouse. We're just unique in the space."

Fogo de Chão doesn't want to be lumped in with the steakhouses. It sees itself as something different. "We're just Fogo de Chão. We're not a churrascaria. We're not a steakhouse. We don't have to be prototypical," says McGowan.  The chain wants to build great restaurants, period, without being typecast. That opens the door to customers who don't necessarily want meat on skewers.

Stats say that young people love Fogo de Chão, but they also have a more diverse diet than any other generation. A 2018 study found that 7% of consumers 18-29 identified as vegetarian or vegan, and 8% of those 30-49, but less than 3% for the higher age groups. By providing a variety of options and eliminating the perception of a "steakhouse", Fogo de Chão is trying to build a brand that is for everyone.

In an effort to continue appealing to the next generation, Fogo de Chão has some big plans for healthier menu items. Here's a sneak peek of what's to come and what's already available at the Brazilian chain.

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Churrasco-style Fish

whole fish over grill
Shutterstock

The chain will soon roll out whole fish cooked over the churrasco flame. "We're going to be testing whole seafood this year," says McGowan. "Remember, the culinary art form of slow roasting a protein is called churrasco. You can't do that at home. So those unique culinary attributes give us a distinctive, crave-able flavor." The fish will be prepared simply, with just olive oil and salt, highlighting the fish and the churrasco style.

This fish will vary depending on location and season but will be sourced in conformance with Fogo de Chao's high-quality standards, adds McGowan.

New vegan & vegetarian entreés

Cauliflower Steak fogo de c
Courtesy of Fogo de Chão

While Fogo has always served plant-based proteins—even when it was a small restaurant in Porto Alegre, Brazil— it has added two hearty vegan options and a vegetarian dish.

Its new seared tofu is served with miso black bean pasta. The tofu is marinated in chimichurri, a South American condiment made with herbs and olive oil, and the pasta is made out of black beans. In addition, its Roasted Power Vegetable Bowl is packed with eggplant, mushrooms, roasted zucchini, asparagus, and peppers. This is served over spinach rice with a chimichurri sauce. The chain is also offering Cauliflower Steak as a hearty vegetarian option with a parmesan crust over a warm chickpea salad.

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Expanded Market Table offerings

Fogo de Chao market table
Fogo de Chao / Facebook

The Market Table is at the center of the restaurant and has always rounded out the churrasco experience with everything from salads and vegetables to cured meats and Fogo feijoada, a traditional black bean stew with sausage. The newest additions will be vegetable-forward and include a baby kale and mango salad, hummus, miso black bean pasta, apple manchego salad, and an assortment of power greens. These offerings will be changed seasonally and based on the freshest vegetables available at each location.

McGowan emphasized that the Market Table is the heart of Fogo de Chão. This is where customers can find whole foods that are nutrient-dense. "There aren't manufactured things like Beyond Meat," he says. "We have whole plant-based proteins. From charcuterie to vegan, everybody can customize in the moment." The best part, someone can come in and get a $15 lunch anytime (depending on location) by just grazing through the hearty Market Table.

Low-alcohol cocktails or mocktails

fogo de chao cocktails
Fogo de Chão / Facebook

Fogo de Chao is launching a wide variety of new cocktails with surprising ingredients. Many of these new drinks include CleanCo alcohol, a brand that produces hard liquor with a very low alcohol percentage (about 0.05%). The new cocktails will include a Clean Cosmo, CleanR Sour—foamed with aquafaba, or chickpea water—and a Clean Cucumber Martini.

 

Robby Haynos
Robby loves eating as much as he loves writing. After graduating from Bates College, Robby is turning his passion for food writing, found during his time with the college newspaper, into a career. He has written for Celebrity Page TV and runs a blog reviewing restaurants in his home towns of Takoma Park, Md., and Rehoboth Beach, Del. Read more about Robby