From Brazil to Iowa: A Culinary Odyssey

By April Pearson

If you ask Claudio Gianello what brought him to the U.S., he’ll point to the boat hanging over the bar in his restaurant. Then he’ll laugh and tell you about how he went from being a candy salesman in Encantado, Brazil, to an award-winning restauranteur in Ames, Iowa. His journey is long and winding, with a few detours. Lucky for us and the Iowa State University (ISU) international community, it ends at Café Beaudelaire, a Campustown staple since 1990. 

Claudio moved from Brazil to Iowa in 1982 to study English and agronomy. He worked in the ISU agronomy department while attending Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) for accounting and met his now-wife of 32 years, Kellie. In 1990, an opportunity opened up when a building across from the ISU campus opened up — a building that now houses Café Beaudelaire. “I decided to take that opportunity,” Claudio says. “Back then, I had a girlfriend who was still in school (Kellie), so I wanted to hang around Ames for a while.” 

A European Café in the Heart of Iowa

The couple opened a little shop with a simple menu and global flair: fresh sandwiches, unique drinks and artisanal coffee. “That was our niche — espresso drinks,” Claudio says. “Back then, if you wanted a cappuccino or something, there was no place to go. The closest thing we had to a coffee shop was the Burger King.” Originally, there were only a few tables outside, making it reminiscent of the sidewalk cafés you’d find in Europe. The French-inspired name “Cafe Beaudelaire” roughly translates to “beauty of the air.” 

Claudio and Kellie had found a sweet spot — Café Beaudelaire appealed to the faculty and students from abroad who wanted a café with atmosphere, or as Claudio would say, a café for grownups. “When we opened, we became the ‘international hangout’ — people from all over the world came here for breakfast and lunch,” Claudio says. “Then internationally minded people who travel abroad started to support us. We were well accepted by Campustown, which helped us succeed.”

Global Flavors Inspired by Experience
As business prospered, Café’ Beaudelaire opened its doors to add tables inside. They expanded the menu, with Claudio doing all the cooking. “I was by myself in the kitchen,” Claudio says. “Kellie would come and help me when she could, but she was finishing college.” It wasn’t easy, but Claudio was no stranger to hard work. In Brazil, he would sell candy door to door after school to support the family business. “I like the challenge that comes with necessity. My family in Brazil has a peanut brittle factory — a mom-and-pop shop — so I’m used to the hustle.” Eventually, the café business grew enough  to hire more staff, including a cook. 

Claudio is still in charge of the global menu, offering empanadas, gyros, spaghetti, burgers and more. “Our food is unique; it’s street food from all over: Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Uruguay, Paraguay, Lebanon, France…. I bring it here, improvise, do a little fusion,” Claudio says. “If I like it, it goes on the menu. Everything on the menu is my favorite.” Menu items are made fresh on-site, requiring a lot of time and prep. “It’s not ‘fast food;’ we make mostly everything ourselves from scratch — we bake the bread, make chimichurri and ranch sauces, and grind our chorizo.” 

An Award-Winning Classic Burger

Considering the quality ingredients, fresh preparation and attention to detail, is it any wonder that Café Beaudelaire’s classic burger was named Iowa’s Best Burger in 2018 by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and Iowa Beef Industry Council? Certified Angus Beef seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano on a toasted bun with lettuce and tomato, the burger was judged on taste, doneness and presentation. Judges said the burger was worth the drive. 

Three Decades of Culinary Excellence

“It was always a dream of mine to open a small sandwich shop,” Claudio says. This “small sandwich shop” has had a big impact on the thousands of students and faculty who have passed through ISU in the past 34 years. It continues to draw patrons from far and wide and remains a beacon of culinary excellence.