Liz Marina Cardozo, an owner of Araras Coffee & More in White Plains, was giving me a quick tour of her cheery cafe — the shelves stocked with Brazilian products, the cooler with creamy desserts — when I asked if she was still making the alfajores I had heard about. The week had been too busy, she said, and inquired if I had sampled her version of the popular South American cookie on a previous visit. I said no.
Ms. Cardozo, who is almost always smiling, suddenly had the look of someone halfway through a Jodi Picoult novel. “Oh, my god, I’m so sad now — you have to try the alfajores,” she said. “You need to come on Saturday.”
Happy to have an excuse to stop by — Araras is an automatic mood elevator — I was back two days later. On the counter was a tray of alfajores — delicious, almost feathery rounds filled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with coconut. The owners, Ms. Cardozo and Celina Bredemann, specialize in desserts. Ms. Cardozo makes at least one cake a day, like carrot with a drizzle of chocolate or a dulce de leche cake dotted with plum and frosted with snow-white meringue. Ms. Bredemann makes the brigadeiros, the two-bite, truffle-like treats made with condensed milk and butter (flavors include coconut, almond, Nutella and a wonderfully intense chocolate).
Araras, which opened in late 2014, also offers a variety of tasty Brazilian snacks made by a friend of the owners. There are empadinhas, miniature potpies filled with chicken and a tart green olive. Quibe, the Brazilian version of the Lebanese kibbeh, avocado-shaped croquettes of bulgur wheat stuffed with ground beef. Esfirra, baked triangles with chicken, beef or ham and cheese. Coxinha, crunchy cones with chicken or a combination of chicken and the Brazilian cream cheese Catupiry; pastels, crisp rectangles with beef (my current favorite); and the slightly chewy, slightly cheesy puffs called pão de queijo, which make for a buoyant breakfast.
Everything on the menu, savory and sweet, goes well with the excellent coffee (from cups to cappuccinos), Café Tres Pontas from the state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil.
It was coffee — Brazilian coffee — that led to the meeting of Ms. Cardozo and Ms. Bredemann, and then, several years later, to inspiring the idea for Araras.
When Ms. Cardozo, who is from Paraguay, came to the United States in 2007, her search for good coffee took her to a store in White Plains called Alo Brasil.
“I was drinking all kinds of coffee but I need a strong coffee, I need to feel the flavor of coffee,” Ms. Cardozo said. “So that is the reason I went to Alo Brasil one afternoon.” She also happened to be looking for a job, “and I asked the owner of the store if he was looking for someone to work there and he said yes.” She paused for a beat. “And then I married him!” (She and Paolo Turato Salves have a 6-year-old daughter, Aleli.)
Ms. Bredemann, who is from São Paulo, was the manager at Alo Brasil, and after the store closed in 2012, she and Ms. Cardozo stayed in touch. Both said that they had always wanted to have their own cafe. And both can’t get enough coffee. (Ms. Cardozo: “I drink, like, four espressos a day.” Ms. Bredemann: “Coffee, I love the coffee. In the morning, the afternoon, the night. All day.”)
To help them get started, they enrolled in a program run by the local nonprofit group Women’s Enterprise Development Center. There, they decided on the name Araras, the Portuguese word for macaws (Brazilians “love this bird — it’s beautiful,” Ms. Bredemann said).
But Ms. Cardozo explained that they did not want to include Brazil or Brazilian in the business’ name “because we’re looking for everybody. You can be from Argentina, from China, from Russia.” But, she said, “if a Brazilian were walking here or driving and they see the name Araras, they will know that it’s a Brazilian place.”
The development center’s course “gave us some tips, some ideas, and they were saying don’t have fear to do what your dream is,” Ms. Cardozo said. “We were small when we started, it was so empty and now it’s so full. We are so happy and we are proud of ourselves.”
“We love the people,” Ms. Bredemann said. “We love the coffee shop. This is my dream coming true.”
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