The proposal was bold: a restaurant open 24 hours a day, with the entire menu available regardless of time of day in a sophisticated and comfortable space, with other businesses taking place simultaneously. When 20 years ago, on November 9, 2003, brothers Marcelo and Carlos Eduardo Woellner Pereira opened Babilônia Gastronomia & Cia, they knew that the step they took was almost provocative. They maintained the proposed operation without interruption for 18 years, until Covid-19 overturned the operating dynamics of the entire planet. It was necessary to be aware of changes in behavior and consumption habits post-pandemic.
So the restaurant adapted to the new reality and, now, in a rebranding without losing its DNA, it looks to the future. The two decades well spent, which made the house a reference in the bustling Curitiba gastronomic scene, are proof that the boldness worked. The brothers welcomed friends and family to celebrate the restaurant’s 20th anniversary on November 9th.
O rebranding which marks Babilônia’s anniversary, proposed changes to the facade, decoration, menu and service model, with the aim of preparing for the next 20 years. It’s just that Marcelo and Carlos don’t want to stop in time. The idea is to keep customers loyal and attract new generations of consumers, attentive to what is happening around the world and looking for new experiences and possibilities. “It was without a doubt the most significant intervention we made in the restaurant”, says Marcelo. More than just celebrating, the aim of the project, which began to take shape in January 2022, is to make the comfortable and cozy space installed at number 541 Alameda Dom Pedro II, in Batel, something contemporary, connected to changes in behavior. The work was signed by the GH&A office, specialized in consumer design.
O rebranding preserved the essence of the restaurant and the vocation for innovation without compromising the comfort of those who have frequented the space for two decades. Like the now traditional table of businesspeople and professionals that has met every Thursday since the inauguration, and which approved the result.
One of the novelties of this new moment at Babilônia is the first bottled drinks franchise in Curitiba, APTK, which gains its own space within the restaurant’s remodeled environment. The brand by São Paulo bartender Alê D’Agostino brings together 30 labels, including the bottled version of the New York Cosmopolitan, the drink based on vodka, liqueur and cranberry and lemon juices that won the world in the series Sex and the City. “Bringing APTK, with high-end cocktail products, has a lot to do with this new audience”, defines Marcelo.
The menu offers more snacks and smaller portions, as well as new dishes. The classics continue: “we kept the base of the menu, the best sellers, the best known”, explains Marcelo. Among them, the Mignon Babilônia, Chicken Dijon, the Ambulante de Mignon sandwich – the best-selling in the early hours of the morning, recalls the businessman – the Capri salad and the Salmon Carpaccio are on the menu.
In 1995, Marcelo and Carlos acquired a small collective meal company that served the corporate market. “We suffered horrors in the first three years”, recalls Marcelo. “We wanted to give the company to someone, exchange it for a record player”, he jokes, about the difficulties of the time. As there was no plan B, they persisted until they generated good results. Three years later, they became partners in Comendador Grill, a restaurant still in operation in Comendador Araújo, today with a former partner of the brothers.
In 99, they opened Leonardo, in the Mercure hotel on Alferes Ângelo Sampaio street. And they started to enjoy the idea of working on different proposals. A year later, it was time to open the Carolla pizzeria. For the venture, they went to other states to look for references and brought an Italian who trained the pizza chefs. “The idea was to sophisticate the pizza,” he recalls.
When they found the Dom Pedro II property, the desire to go further arose. “We rent without knowing what to do”, he admits. The idea of something that wouldn’t close came from observing gas station convenience stores, which were always crowded during the early hours of the morning, and hot dog carts, which gathered fans even late at night.
The adopted model would have as one of its references the Rio de Janeiro restaurant Garcia & Rodrigues which, inspired by European gastronomic complexes, offered a rotisserie, delicatessen, bakery, confectionery, wine cellar, restaurant and kitchen items store in the same space. Visits to São Paulo and Porto Alegre expanded the range of references. The name of the restaurant came from conversations between the partners and the architect duo. When they were introduced to the brothers’ project, architect Cláudia Pereira, who worked on creating the environment alongside her colleague Gabriel Valente, exclaimed: “Wow, this thing is going to be a Babylon!” It was enough.
The restaurant was born with space for a bakery, outsourced wine cellar, cigar shop, a small bookstore, CD and DVD store and a corner dedicated to the sale of Italian semi-jewelry. “We joked that there was no lock on the door”, he laughs, as the operation never stopped. The teams were divided into three shifts, and all the logistics of receiving supplies for the kitchen and other items, plus inventory management, were structured so that there was absolutely no shortage of anything at any time, including early mornings and weekends. “We’ve had complaints of all kinds, but never from someone who ordered stroganoff at 3 am and didn’t eat it because there was no meat,” he says, with a certain pride.
Comes and goes
During economic fluctuations, the enterprise grew – the Mediterranean, a restaurant opened in 2008, and the Babilônia franchises, plus two own stores (Cabral and Shopping Palladium) came – and reduced when necessary. All operations together, in 2012, they had 500 employees. The separation of the company that same year reduced the team by half, and left the brothers with Babilônia, the franchises and their two own units.
The pandemic changed the global reality, and it was initially necessary to pause 24-hour service. The need came to interrupt activities and continue with delivery until everything got closer to normal. With the recovery, and without the franchises and two own stores, Marcelo and Carlos understood that it no longer made sense to work non-stop, and adapted the Batel unit model. “We defined new schedules. We open at 11am, we go until midnight on weekdays. Weekends, until 2am. A cool, healthy time with a very interesting audience”, he ponders.
Ed Sheeran solo
In 20 years, Babilônia saw a cast of stars that impresses. From the narrators of the TV stations who came to the city to broadcast football games to artists performing throughout the city, the list includes Galvão Bueno, Eva Wilma, Miguel Falabella, Luiz Felipe Scolari when he was still managing the Brazilian National Team, the comedian Paulo Gustavo , Agnetha Fältskog, one of Abba’s vocalists, and a lone Ed Sheeran, in 2017, when he performed in the city. “The guy came alone, on foot, without security, out of nowhere. He entered like a stranger”, says Marcelo. During our conversation, at lunch time, a bride appears and sits at the next table. “Everything happens here,” she highlights.
Friends and old customers occasionally ask if franchises or 24-hour service can return. For now, there are no plans for this. “The quality of life has improved a thousand percent,” says Marcelo. The thing is, with ten restaurants, one of which has uninterrupted service, there were no breaks or weekends, he comments. “Now we can play beach tennisand Carlos is playing tennis, something we didn’t do before”, he celebrates.