From volleyball players to restaurant owners

Rimsie McConiga
Special to the Citizen

After growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Marco Rabello and Cristian Maciel were excited when they learned that they had been accepted to attend Park University in Parkville on volleyball scholarships. 

Neither could speak English but they studied for six months before they left Brazil and were fluent when they arrived in the U.S.

As they focused on their majors, business administration and international business, their love of the area grew and they knew they would like to stay after college, but they never imagined that a culinary career would be the path they ended up on.

When they finished college they both married and had children. 

“Kansas City is great for raising a family, there’s not as much crime as in Brazil,” Maciel said. “It became home. This is home for us now.”

Rabello had always wanted to open a restaurant. 

Contributed photo  Marco Rabello, left, and Cristian Maciel, were two former Park University volleyball players that have opened a restaurant and food truck in Kansas City.

Contributed photo

Marco Rabello, left, and Cristian Maciel, were two former Park University volleyball players that have opened a restaurant and food truck in Kansas City.

“I said Marco, ‘we play volleyball, we don’t know how to cook,’” said Maciel, who had worked in many restaurants in the Kansas City area as a busboy, server, floor manager and bartender.

Initially, they wanted to open a Brazilian coffee shop but when they visited the City Market in Kansas City and saw the wide variety of ethnic restaurants they decided that the area would be a good place to offer their authentic Brazilian cuisine.

The problem was that neither of them cooked — but their mothers in Brazil did and so they consulted the experts.

They devoted the next few months to Facetime with their moms to learn how to make their favorite dishes such as Castro Pie, which contains ground beef, peppers, onion and mushrooms inside puff pastry with dried apricots and spices for seasoning.

They opened Taste of Brazil at the City Market in 2013. 

“When we opened it was such a small business we decided that Marco would run the restaurant and I would manage another restaurant because our small restaurant couldn’t afford both of us, but after three years I was tired of working for someone else and we decided to open a food truck,” Maciel said. “I run the food truck, Marco runs the restaurant.”

Companies around the Kansas City area hire Maciel to bring the food truck to their businesses. The truck is also popular at beer festivals, wineries, breweries, and church festivals.

The truck holds enough food for 200- 300 people.

Rice and beans and prime cut of top sirloin are the most sought after items on the menu and tropical juice and sugar cane juice are also very popular. On weekends customers can purchase fresh green coconut water, which is chopped in half on the spot and loaded with a straw.

Three months ago they decided to open another restaurant next door to Taste of Brazil. They wanted to do something completely different that would appeal to kids who might not be interested in trying Brazilian food. Chicken Please offers a variety of poultry dishes including pot pies, chicken stroganoff, chicken and waffles, nuggets, chicken nachos and the unique culinary specialty, chicken tenders on a bun with vanilla ice cream, honey or caramel.

“We are giving Chicken Please a year to see how it goes,” says Maciel. “It’s much easier to manage. We might open more of them in different areas.”

Maciel goes back to Brazil every two years to see his family but when he is there he starts to miss Kansas City after a few weeks.

Maciel says he and Rabello’s 30-year friendship has been made even stronger by their business ventures. “Marco is the brain of our operation and I am the heart,” says Maciel. “There is a balance. When you work hard and do the right thing, doors open for you.”