In the Kitchen with the Mother-Daughter Powerhouse Trio Behind Cafe de Casa

Meet mother Lucimar Canedo and daughters Thais and Amanda Moreira, the ladies with the creamy chicken coxinhas and smoky feijoada.

A big spread of coxinhas, pies, and other savory pastries
Cafe de Casa

Cafe de Casa has been a beloved destination for the Brazilian community in the Bay Area for more than a decade, and it’s expanded and captured the hearts of more San Franciscans in recent years. The tiny original location over by the airport in South San Francisco has long been a layover for creamy chicken coxinhas (croquettes) and smoky feijoada (stew). Two newer locations in Fisherman's Wharf and the Castro now serve rosca de coco (coconut bread) and salads. Plus sister brand Palmetto Superfoods spins out acai bowls at a couple of shops, too. All five restaurants — and counting — are thanks to one immigrant family of three women: Meet mother Lucimar Canedo and daughters Thais and Amanda Moreira, the ladies of Cafe de Casa. In a city with a few Brazilian steakhouses, they hope that stepping into one of their warm and welcoming cafes feels like coming home.

“We want to do comfort food,” says older sister Thais. “We want people to feel like they’re in their own house, and that’s the reason for the name.” The cashiers are fluent in Portuguese, to make Brazilians extra comfy, and if anyone comments that their mom or grandma used to make a dish a different way, the kitchen will try to accommodate.

“I think we’re the only Brazilian restaurant in SF that’s not a steakhouse,” Thais speculates.

“No Thais, there are some coffee shops, too!” Amanda quickly corrects.

“But they all buy pastries from us!” Thais fires back.

Thais, Lucimar, and Amanda standing in front of a cafe window
Thais Moreira, Lucimar Canedo, Amanda Moreira | Cafe de Casa

Immigrant mom and head chef Canedo has an incredible story, starting as an underground baker and rising to run a cafe empire, as first reported by the SF Chronicle. Originally from a small town in central Brazil, following a bitter divorce she visited SF in 2004, and promptly decided to make vacation permanent. She knew one friend of a cousin and didn’t speak any English. Previously a social worker, she also loved to cook, and snagged a job at a Mr. Pizza Man on Clement, where she slid Brazilian dishes onto the menu. Returning with her daughters in 2008, then in their late teens and early twenties, all three women baked together out of a garage in South SF. They were quietly supplying pastries to several different Brazilian coffee shops, one of which owed them $6,000. Until a neighbor called the health department and shut them down. That stroke of bad luck catapulted them into their first official food business: The customer who owed money asked if they’d like his restaurant space, and they took over Cafe de Casa in 2011.

A blue cafe with tropical plants
The original cafe in South San Francisco | Cafe de Casa

Eldest daughter Thais is an electrical engineer by training, and she stepped up as the fixer. “We had no choice … ” Thais says. “We barely spoke English. We didn’t know the regulations. It was really scary and weird.” But even as a first-time restaurant owner in her 20s, she did something many fear — she made best friends with the health department. “The San Mateo health department helped us with everything,” she says. “I spent hours in that office. They held our hand every step of the way.” The family paid a discounted rent until the debt issue was settled, all while building a loyal following for their home-style cooking. And they continued to expand the menu and locations, first adding a larger production kitchen in 2012, then the Fisherman’s Wharf location in 2015, followed by the Castro location in pre-pandemic 2020.  

Thais and Amanda dressed up for an occasion
Thais & Amanda Moreira | Cafe de Casa

Younger sister Amanda shines as the trend spotter and tastemaker who comes up with fresh ideas. She called it seven years ago when she insisted on putting acai bowls on the new menu at Fisherman's Wharf. A designer called acai “a passing trend,” but Amanda doubled down on recreating the purest acai blends of her childhood memories, featuring the pure pulp that’s darker in color, without any premixes or preservatives. “People are seeking more healthy food,” Amanda says. “Acai can be a treat, but it’s a healthy treat.” A regular loved the bowls so much that he reached out, and together with new partner Charles Lee, the sisters launched Palmetto Superfoods, a spinoff dedicated to acai. Palmetto currently has two locations in the Richmond and Marina, and there’s a third coming soon to the Metreon in SoMa, where a robot will be building the bowls. (That’s a partnership with a startup called Robojuice, featuring a kiosk filled with frozen fruit, and a humanoid that does the blending.)  

A platter of coxinhas with one split open to show the chicken
Coxinhas | Cafe de Casa
Buns covered in coconut flakes
Rosca de coco | Cafe de Casa
An acai bowl topped with banana, berries, and oats
Acai bowl | Palmetto Superfoods

The cafes now boast a big ambitious menu. Longtime regulars love the Brazilian classics: The coxinhas, those torpedo-shaped croquettes, as big as your palm and heavy with creamy chicken (Canedo does not believe in dry chicken). The pao de queijo, those chewy cheese puffs made from tapioca flour, never skimp on gooey cheese. The labor of love is the feijoada, which takes a full day to prepare, packing in the best bits from different variations across Brazil, which means soaking black beans, boiling dried beef, frying pork ribs, and simmering them down for 7 hours. Thais has a soft spot for her mother’s pillowy soft rosca de coco or coconut bread drizzled in condensed milk and dusted in coconut flakes. Then there are Amanda’s ultra fresh acai bowls, sandwiches, and salads, catering breakfasts and lunches to locals and tourists alike. Of course, the first two cafes brew strong Brazilian coffee, exclusively dark roasts and pour-overs courtesy of Coffee Magic, while the Castro also serves lighter espresso from Linea Caffe (both local roasters).

Now the family works tight and hard running the mini empire. At age 57, Canedo heads into the kitchen at 3am to cook for 10 hours (apparently that’s an improvement from the past). Her daughters describe her as a perfectionist with hands in everything and eyes “on her back.” If the buns stay in the oven 2 minutes too long, “I have seen her cry a thousand times in the kitchen,” Thais says. “She’s a very emotional chef.” Thais is at her elbow solving problems, while Amanda bounces between storefronts in the city. They text and call each other constantly. When Canedo travels back to Brazil, to take care of her own 79-year-old mother, she FaceTimes the kitchen every two hours. The daughters try to get their mom to “relax!” and consistently write down recipes. But while they’ve trained a great team, ingredient shortages have been challenging, and they’ve had to suddenly swap in different brands of tapioca flour, for instance.

Thais, Lucimar, and Amanda wearing holiday sweaters and laughing
Thais Moreira, Lucimar Canedo, Amanda Moreira | Cafe de Casa

They also all live together. Currently Canedo and Thais live together in South SF, while Amanda and her husband are minutes away in Brisbane. But the sisters insist they think alike, they trust each other’s decisions, and there are no fights. “For me, the best part of working with my family is that my sister and my mom don’t have to ask for permission all the time,” Amanda says. “Do whatever you think is good for the business and we’re good there. But we’re always letting each other know what’s going on.” Friends are still incredulous — how can they live and work so closely together without killing each other?! But the sisters disagree. “I feel grateful that I have my mom and my sister on my side all the time,” Thais says. “There’s no hard side to that. It’s just amazing.”

Cafe de Casa is available through Pastel across the Bay Area, and you can use the code "coxinhas" to get 20% off their menu (expires 5/17/22). If you’ve never used Pastel before, sign up for access below.