When Adriana Zumpano feels homesick for Brazil, she heads to the kitchen.
“I cook Brazilian food, and it makes me warm in my soul,” Zumpano said.
She doesn’t keep that feeling to herself. Instead, she uses her new position as owner of Sturgeon Bay’s Bluefront Cafe to share the warmth with others.
Usually, the cafe’s niche is soups, salads and sandwiches, but on Feb. 17, it hosted its first special-menu dinner: a six-course Brazilian-Mexican fusion meal that was a collaboration between Zumpano and Chef Mauricio Martinez of Mauricio’s Mexican restaurant in Sturgeon Bay.
Among other dishes, the special menu included ceviche – fresh scallops with Mexican herbs and spices; farofa – a traditional side dish made with toasted cassava flour; coxinha – shredded chicken with cream cheese and herbs, shaped into a teardrop and fried; and picanha – a cut of beef popularized in Brazil.
The menu didn’t include dishes such as tacos or enchiladas, which are already well known in America, because Zumpano said the point of the meal was to broaden guests’ horizons.
“There’s much more to this food than what people are used to,” she said.
Putting together an authentic Brazilian-Mexican menu in rural Wisconsin was challenging, according to Zumpano. In Florida, where she used to live, it was much easier to find authentic ingredients because of the large Brazilian population there. For this meal, she had ingredients shipped from Florida, and Martinez brought food from Mexico after making a recent visit there.
Hosting meals like this is just one of the ways in which Zumpano is changing things up as Bluefront’s new owner. She’s also planning to expand hours, create outdoor seating and implement online ordering and delivery options.
Cooking Up a Career
Though it’s Zumpano’s first time owning a restaurant, food has been her passion since she was a child growing up in Belo Horizonte, a city in southeastern Brazil. Zumpano’s family is Brazilian and Italian, and its members have always connected around food.
“As you can imagine, putting Italians and Brazilians together, it’s a party all the time,” Zumpano said. “It’s food, food, food. If we have to cry, we cry around food. If we laugh, we laugh around food.”
After moving to the United States in 2007, Zumpano worked in Florida as a family’s private chef and stayed in that position until 2015. At that point, she had been in a long-distance relationship with Door County local Josh Stack, and she moved here to get married.
After moving, Zumpano couldn’t find any private-chef positions (salaried positions in which chefs cook meals for their employers) in Door County. So instead, she did some gigs as a personal chef (a self-employed chef who makes food for multiple clients) and worked at a Green Bay brewery for about a year.
But some family friends advised her to live and work in Door County.
“They said, ‘You have to work in Door County; otherwise, you’re not going to really understand it or find your way here,’” Zumpano said.
So when she saw that Bluefront Cafe was hiring kitchen staff in 2017, she applied – and Zumpano said that former co-owner Susan Guthrie wasn’t shy about telling her that she was overqualified for the position.
Zumpano accepted it anyway, and over the years, she grew close to Guthrie and her co-owner, Patrick Barbercheck. By 2022, the co-owners were ready to sell. Their decision was due in part to how physically demanding restaurant work is and how many difficulties they were experiencing during their later years of business ownership, from the pandemic to inflation to worsening staffing shortages.
“It’s always challenging to be in the restaurant business, but it was extra challenging these last few years,” Guthrie said.
By the time she and Barbercheck decided to sell the restaurant, they knew they wanted to hand it off to Zumpano.
“The fact that she had worked for us for years and kind of was in the trenches with us [during the pandemic] made me feel more confident about that decision,” Guthrie said.
It was an exciting step for Zumpano, but, she said, a nerve-racking one, too. She’s well aware of how much time, effort and money Guthrie and Barbercheck had poured into the restaurant over nearly 20 years – and how all of their responsibilities are now hers.
But although Guthrie and Barbercheck sold the restaurant, they didn’t go far. They live right down the street, and they still drop in occasionally to help Zumpano with odds and ends – or just to visit. During the special dinner on Feb. 17, they were two of the 60 or so attendees.
“It was really strange for us to walk in the front door rather than the back door,” Guthrie said.
Strangeness aside, she and Barbercheck knew they were in good hands with Zumpano at the helm.
“She’s quality oriented; she’s determined; and she’s very passionate about food,” Guthrie said.
Hungry yet? Bluefront Cafe, 86 W. Maple St. in Sturgeon Bay, is open for lunch Wednesday – Sunday, 11 am – 3 pm.