Meg Nanna

The Belmont food cart Brazilian House is beloved by everyone who’s eaten there. I’m a huge fan of the cod moqueca, but don’t shirk the yuca fries, which are perfectly crunchy and lighter than their French counterparts. I used to visit it when it was still in the Good Food Here lot, next door to Movie Madness—now it’s just down the street.

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The owner of the cart, Maria Heloisa Soares de Assis, learned to cook from her mother.

“When I was young,” she says, “I took a bench, stepped on it, and begged my mom to cook. When I was 10 years old, I cooked every day.” But when she went to school and chose a profession, Heloisa became a nurse, and these were the skills that brought her to the US in 2008. She worked part-time as a nurse for a woman and her granddaughter living in America.

“[My client] said, ‘Heloisa, the pay here is better. Will you come here to watch my mother and daughter?’” she says. “I wanted to travel because of my divorce. The money wasn’t so big, but I wanted a challenge.”

I first took note of de Assis’ personable air when she charmed a friend of mine, gently teasing him about his food orders and his lack of soccer knowledge. That winning personality is regularly mentioned in reviews, but it also saved her when the cart had to move with very little notice.

“That was my time of struggle,” de Assis remembers.

Just two years into operation, in the fall of 2015, she learned that everyone occupying the Good Food Here pod had to vacate to make way for a four-story condo development. De Assis says at the time she didn’t have enough money to move the cart to a new pod across the street. It was at this point a customer, Roberta Marques Reis, stepped in to help.

At the time Reis was brand new to Portland, but a friend recommended the cart as a place that reminds Brazilians of home.

“She’s from this one part of Brazil, Minas Gerais.” Reis says. “Everybody knows they produce the best cooks in the country, so when they say she’s from Minas, I go, ‘Oh my god! I gotta check it out.’”

The two struck up an easy conversation, and eventually Heloisa mentioned that she might have to close if she couldn’t get enough money to move to the new pod. Reis decided to start a GoFundMe to save the cart.

“At first, my concern was that I was new here.” Reis says. “I didn’t have a good network, but I said, ‘Y’know what? She does.’”

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Reis made a sign to place outside Brazilian House so that customers would know about the campaign, and she reached out the Portland-area Brazilian Facebook group. Together they raised $2,700, which made the move possible.

“She was kind of embarrassed,” Reis says. “But I said, ‘This not embarrassment. The community is here. You are helping us to eat Brazilian food. It is our culture. If your business continues, we can still enjoy our food.’”