On a recent evening in São Paulo, Felipe Branco (MBA ’18) was working on one of the most important assignments of his MBA program.
That night Branco was hosting 20 classmates and Dean Tiff Macklem at his grandmother’s home. Weeks earlier, when he had learned that friends and faculty from Rotman would be in his hometown for a study tour and business meetings, he’d insisted on preparing an authentic Brazilian dinner.
He designed a menu that featured traditional Brazilian delicacies. Before each course, he introduced and provided additional context about the locally-sourced ingredients he had used.
“I didn’t want this to be a typical dinner,” he says. “I wanted everyone to think about what they were eating and how this meal came together.”
This has also been Branco’s approach towards completing the MBA. He’s looked for ways to take every project to the next level and, wherever possible, he’s tried to blend community, food and fun into his learning journey.
Mixing business and pleasure
Running a successful restaurant requires two essential ingredients: a passion for food and a solid strategy. So, in many ways, business school seems like a natural place for an aspiring restaurateur like Branco.
He has always had a passion for food and cooking. Growing up, he spent many hours in the kitchen with his grandmother, preparing elaborate meals for the family. As a teenager, he cooked for friends, catered a few small weddings and worked in kitchens during his summers off from school.
At the same time, Branco also had an interest in business. And his studies in business administration at the University of São Paulo eventually became his primary focus. It wasn’t until he went on an exchange to Italy and was exposed to the country’s vibrant food industry, when he realized that he could build a career blending food and business.
“My goal was to learn as much as I could and look for ways to bring food into it.”
—Felipe Branco (MBA ’18)
Branco knew that he needed a strong foundation in management and business if he wanted to pursue a career managing food enterprises and launching restaurants. With that in mind, he pursued the Full-Time MBA program at Rotman.
“From day one, my idea for what I wanted to get out of the MBA was different from most of my classmates,” he says. “My goal was to learn as much as I could and look for ways to bring food into it.”
He quickly saw how the lessons taught in class would be directly applicable in restaurant operations.
“The kitchen is a tough place to work. You need to find ways to lead your kitchen staff, manage crises that come up during the night and sustain the energy,” he explains. “That’s where leadership and strong management is essential.”
As well, Branco saw how a strong knowledge of finance, marketing and strategy could come in handy. For his summer internship, he got a taste of food industry by developing a business plan for a high-profile chef in Brazil.
“Most restaurant owners focus on the food, but a restaurant is also a business,” he says. “You need to keep an eye on your profit margins, consider how you are marketing yourself and develop a strategy to say competitive.”
Making a mark in the Rotman (and Toronto) food scene
In his spare time, Branco has also looked for ways to get the School interested and engaged in food.
He competed on the U of T team for the Iron Chef 2017 and Iron Chef 2018 challenges, which pitted four North American universities against each other for an intense culinary challenge. During the 2017 MBA Program Kick-Off he organized a number of group cooking nights, so that students would have the chance to learn more about each other and food.
“Most restaurant owners focus on the food, but a restaurant is also a business…You need to keep an eye on your profit margins, consider how you are marketing yourself and develop a strategy to stay competitive.”
—Felipe Branco (MBA ’18)
In addition to serving as president of the Rotman Wine Club, he also founded the School’s first Culinary Club. At club meetings, members learn about food prep techniques. And everyone works together in preparing a communal meal.
“It’s mostly meant for fun and community, but there are definitely parallels between working in a kitchen and management,” he says. “The principles of working efficiently, reducing waste and coming together as a team still apply.”
Branco is set to make his mark in the city’s food scene. He’s just accepted a role as managing partner for Zebu Steak + Bar, a new steakhouse featuring authentic Brazilian cuisine, which will open its first location in downtown Toronto in June 2018.
“What I love about Toronto is that it’s such a multicultural city and diners are really open to trying new menus and cuisines,” he says “There’s definitely room for improvement. I see a lot of restaurants offering traditional foods, in a traditional ways. But I think there’s an opportunity to do more than that and experiment a bit.”
Everyone at Rotman is anxious to see what he’ll serve up.
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories » | Photos by Geoffrey Vendeville/U of T News and Yana Kaz/Rotman School