Entrepreneur Junea Rocha, Co-Founder, Brazi Bites
On her “swim” in the Shark Tank, and the secret to her (tasty!) success.
I always keep an eye out for successful Latina businesswomen who would make for great interviews. When a food publicist sent me an email about Brazi Bites’ newest offerings, I was intrigued because I’m a sucker for carbs and cheese. They’re the way to my heart!
“Brazilian food is very diverse, interesting, and deeply satisfying,” gushes Junea Rocha who, about 12 years ago, co-founded Brazi Bites with her husband, Cameron MacMullin. “Brazilians love carbs and eat tons of meat. Cheese bread is a staple in Brazil; it’s a scrumptious little bun-like cheese bread made from tapioca flour, fresh cheese, and simple ingredients and it’s enjoyed by everyone.”
A Taste of Home
Rocha grew up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and relocated to Portland, Oregon after college, where she worked as a construction engineer. She had no formal culinary background, but craved foods from her home country, which she wanted to bring to Portland—and beyond. “My hope was that Americans would love Brazilian Cheese Bread (“Pão de queijo”) as much as I did.”
With support from her husband, family, and friends, Rocha said “adios” to her engineering job and “Hola” to Brazi Bites, a food company that carries melt-in-your-mouth Brazilian cheese bread (of course!) along with empanadas, breakfast sandwiches, and more. “My family was happy to hear I wanted to share a Brazilian tradition with Americans, but my parents were concerned that I was leaving a promising career in construction,” recalls Rocha. “Eventually they came around and today are very proud.”
Swimming with Sharks
In November 2015, Rocha and MacMillan appeared on the hit TV entrepreneur show, “Shark Tank, one of ABC’s most popular shows. “We were raising money at that time and thought going on Shark Tank was a perfect way to progress towards our fundraising efforts while getting massive national exposure,” says Rocha. They asked the Sharks for $200,000 for 10% of Brazi Bites, and ‘Shark’ Lori Greiner offered Rocha and MacMillan $200,000 for 16.5 percent of their business.
“We accepted the deal on the air, but ultimately did not go through with it,” explains Rocha; as confirmed by other entrepreneurs via various business blogs, not all deals you see on the hit show pan out. “However, Shark Tank put us on the map. After our episode aired, in just three days, we were sold out nationwide and grocery buyers started calling.” Adds Rocha: “It was an amazing experience and really helped catapult national awareness for our brand at a pivotal point in our growth.” According to Rocha, today, Brazi Bites is “one of the most successful food brands to have ever come out of the show.”
Shark Tank enthusiasts online were impressed with Rocha and MacMillan’s business acumen when on the show. They came in hot and ready to make a deal—and it showed. “The Tank is fierce and fast-paced! Know your numbers, strengths, weaknesses, and exactly how you’ll use the investment to scale. Preparation is key,” stresses Rocha. “We spent hours rehearsing every possible question, watching old episodes, and working on our confidence and presentation skills. After all, you only get one shot in front of the Sharks!”
Know your audience
Her advice for entrepreneurs is to understand why consumers are buying your products and know your products better than anyone. “We noticed pizza bites are very popular and our fans wanted us to have our own version. We decided to create a simple ingredient, gluten-free, grain-free product, and our launching Pizza’nadas this year to meet that need. Listening to our consumers also informed our decision to launch our Homestyle Breakfast Sandwiches.”
When she’s not promoting Brazi Bites, Rocha mentors and advises a number of entrepreneurs. “We currently have 17 employees and we’re still based in Portland, OR,” says Rocha. “So far the response to our new products—the Pizza’nadas and Breakfast Sandwiches–has been overwhelmingly positive which means the world to us!”
Learn more about the Brazi Bites at: www.brazibites.com. They’re sold nationwide at all your fave shops, including Target and Whole Foods.