Daniel Nunes arrived in Dublin two years ago as a student to learn English.
He quickly realised how big the Brazilian community is here. But the city lacked Brazilian takeaways and restaurants, he thought.
“So I saw the opportunity to open the business,” says Nunes. He and a friend decided to open their own place offering authentic Brazilian food in a casual atmosphere.
On North Circular Road, near Lower Dorset Street, Sampa Foods is open seven days a week from 5pm to midnight.
It’s been open about a year now, says Nunes, sat at one of the few tables in the low-frills restaurant just before opening time. They funded it with their savings, he says.
The building used to be a kebab shop, but Nunes learnt that was closing up, and thought the large number of Brazilians in the area would make it a good place to open Sampa Foods.
It offers Brazilian specialities from esfihas and Beirutes to the snacky coxinhas.
Similar to small pizzas, esfihas are rounded pieces of dough topped with meats, cheese, and vegetables. The Portuguesa esfiha, which is filled with ham, egg, soft cheese and onion, is one of the most popular, says Nunes.
What makes esfihas different to pizzas is the dough. Nunes makes Sampa’s esfiha dough himself.
It is lighter, fluffier and slightly sweeter than pizza dough, and keeps its structure under the weight of the toppings. With cheese and salty garnishes, esfihas are tangy and pillowy.
“It attracts people from all over the city because of that homemade quality,” says Ahmed Hossam, a PhD student from TU Dublin, who invested in the company a little over a month ago.
As well as savoury esfihas, Sampa Foods also offers sweet ones, topped with Nutella, sweets and fruits.
Beirute, meanwhile – which is named after the Lebanese capital – is a sandwich that originated with the Lebanese community in Brazil.
“It is amazing,” says Hossam. “It is a sandwich with Middle Eastern bread, similar to that of pitta bread, with Brazilian sauce and meats.”
It’s filled with either ham or smoked sausage and then egg, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheddar cheese, cream cheese and mayonnaise.
They’re mammoth. So big that Nunes has begun to make mini-Beirute. “They are very filling,” he says, with a smile.
They’ve coxinhas, too, the teardrop-shaped balls of dough filled with shredded chicken and deep-fried. “They are the most popular dish we have. People around here love it,” says Nunes.
Although Sampa Foods specialises in Brazilian food, they also serve burgers, pizzas and chips.
“I lived in America for 10 years so I know this food,” says Nunes. However, he and Hossam emphasise that Brazilian flavours have influenced all the items on the menu.
“Everything would have a Brazilian flair – even the burgers have a Brazilian sauce in them,” says Hossam.
“Brazil even has its own pizza. It’s not American pizza, it’s not Italian pizza, it’s something in between,” he says.
Nunes used to be a chef in his native São Paulo. His wife, Areana, and he shared head-chef responsibilities.
Sampa is also a family affair. Aside from Hossam, it is run by friends and family.
Nunes says the name of the restaurant is São Paulo’s nickname. Picking it was a way to show the place was authentic, he says.
The restaurant itself is small and unassuming. There are a few small tables for eating in. Most customers order takeaway or deliveries.
They’ve struggled to keep up with the volume of deliveries, says Hossam. So they’re expanding their premises and opening a new outlet on Thomas Street to cater for the south side.
Another Brazilian mini-supermarket and snack shop, Churros do Lulú, opened recently on that street, too.
“We hope we will be trading within the next two to three weeks,” he says. “It’s important that it is located in the heart of the city because most of the Brazilian community is located in this area.”
“The new shop should hopefully take away some of the load from this one,” says Nunes.