Renata and Vilmar Zenzen have a love affair—with Knoxville.
Although they lived in Dallas, the Zenzens first visited in Knoxville in 2010 while traveling across the United States looking for a new home and place to start a business of their own. “It was fate,” says Renata. “After we’d been visiting so many places for an entire year, we moved here in less than a month.” Six months later, on September 19, 2010, the Zenzens opened Brazeiros Churrascaria at the junction of Papermill Road and Kingston Pike.
“This is home for us and we love it here,” says Vilmar. “It reminds me a lot of where I grew up, in Paraná in Brazil—a lot of water and green and mountains.” Vilmar moved to the United States in 1998, and for more than a decade he worked as a store opener for a chain of Brazilian restaurants. After working in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, he knew he wanted to open his own restaurant in a small and friendly city. He and his wife agreed that Knoxville was exactly where they wanted to be.
The Zenzens put a great deal of effort into making their restaurant as authentic as possible. In addition to traditional Brazilian cuisine, they also now offer two Brazilian beers, a Brazilian cocktail known as a “caipirinha” (which includes cachaça, a sugar cane-based alcohol, with sugar and lime), and even the Brazilian soda Guaraná.
For some, a first visit to Brazeiros can be intimidating, as the style of service is very different from American restaurants. After being seated, guests are invited to visit the salad bar, which offers typical Brazilian dishes such as potato salad, heart of palm, and a variety of raw and steamed vegetables. Salad in hand, guests return to their table and are provided with traditional sides such as cheese bread, fried plantains, and farofa (a dish made from fried yucca flour). Also on the table are cards that are green on one side and red on the other. As soon as a guest turns his or her card to the green side, a stream of gauchos (waiter-chefs) approach the table to offer portions of 12 different cuts of meat—including beef, pork, chicken, and lamb—that are cut from the spit directly onto the guests’ plates. Turning the card back to red stops the flow of meat and allows the diner to savor and enjoy their meal.
“If we could tell people one thing, it’s don’t come for just the quantity of food, but for the quality,” says Renata. Though the number of offerings is large, the goal is to offer quality choices to guests. People come for the first time and try some of everything that’s offered, Renata explains, but on the next visit people know what they like and choose to eat just their favorites. And for Vilmar, the restaurant is more than just a place to eat. “I spend a lot of time here. And I love it. It’s a style of life that I choose to live,” he says. “There is kind of some passion, you know? I enjoy it a lot.”
The Zenzens are passionate not only about their food but also about sharing their culture and giving their guests a memorable experience. “This is how we live in Brazil, this is how we eat,” says Renata. “You don’t have to go to Brazil to have the authentic Brazilian experience”—you can have it right here in Knoxville.
6901 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919
Tuesday-Friday: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-1o p.m.
Friday 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Monday-Friday: Bar opens at 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: 3 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Sunday: 3 p.m.-9 p.m.