Written by Abhati Tarkunde May 27, 2021
Renata Santoniero is a mentor and dear friend of FoodLab Sydney. Renata and her partner Bruno Homero manage Taoca whilst working their full time jobs as an architect and mechanical engineer.
Every time people hear that I'm a vegan Brazilian, they go, “but how come you're vegan if all you guys eat is meat?” But that's not true! We eat other things, but it's not really spoken about here. And then we thought, maybe we can change that.
Renata Santoniero and her partner Bruno Homero started Taoca in mid-2019.
Through Taoca, they wanted to show different nuances of Brazilian food, and make it healthy, too. Taoca crepes are vegan, non GMO, gluten free, cholesterol free, with no artificial flavours or colours. They are a very versatile food – you can choose your own filling, savoury or sweet!
The idea was to share more than the surface level of what Brazilian food is, while simultaneously busting that myth that “it’s literally just meat.”
Originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Renata Santoniero came to Sydney in 2012 after graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture. The trip was supposed to last a few months, but Renata decided to stay and continue working in Sydney. Little did she know she would later become a food entrepreneur in Sydney.
Renata’s interest in food sparked after coming to Australia.
“I never really needed to learn how to cook anything until I moved here and had to live by myself. Soon I found myself immersed in the art.”
That was when she consciously began understanding what goes into her stomach. She decided to turn to vegetarianism, which later evolved into veganism.
“I became passionate about healthy food. After going vegan, you start thinking about everything in your food. You just start reading about it and you’re like oh, all the poor choices I’ve been making my whole life!”
Tapioca is a traditional Brazilian food that has been used in indigenous Brazilian diet for centuries. Tapioca crepes are a popular street food, made with cassava starch, and used to predominantly be found in specific areas of North and North East Brazil. In the past eight to ten years, these have become more mainstream.
They are cooked by sifting the hydrated tapioca power onto a hot pan or skillet, then waiting for it to melt to form a crepe, which takes approximately two minutes. The filling of choice is then added on one side of the crepe, and the other side is folded on top like a taco.
“I discovered tapioca crepes when I travelled to the North of Brazil. I thought it was extremely fascinating how the powder sticks together and becomes a crepe. I tried it... I was like, oh, my god, this is amazing!”
Renata and Bruno thought that this could be something they bring to Sydney, with healthier and vegan ingredients. They started experimenting to create a twist on traditional flavours like cheese and tomato (called the pizza flavour), and guava and cheese.
They expanded their artistry to coloured tapioca crepe powders, made using beetroot juice, paprika, spinach juice and other healthy ingredients.
The crepe itself is an excellent source of energy. It's a common pre-workout food because it is an instant energy booster. There are ways to make it even more nutritious, by adding healthy fillings and toppings.
Renata has different favourite crepe recipes for different times of the day.
“For breakfast, we love our avocado, mushroom and spinach filling. But if it's lunch, our bestseller pulled ‘pork’, which is actually made from jackfruit, with some Brazilian slaw and cashew nuts. For dessert, there’s the nutty chocolate spread and strawberries, or the guava and cheese!”
One of Taoca’s best selling crepe additions, the Nutty Chocolate Spread, that they make in-house is now available to buy online.
Made from 70% Belgian chocolate, with their own almond butter, hazelnut butter and peanut butter. It is a healthy and high quality product, with no added sugar.
Starting Taoca, alongside a full-time job
“We were first, even before the product, interested in having a side-hustle. Not just to put our time into something that was ours, but also to not just be thinking about the construction industry all the time.”
Renata and Bruno took inspiration from several places.
“We were inspired by businesses back in Brazil that did similar things. We got business models from Brazil, but adapted them to the street market culture of Sydney. Then we mixed Brazilian and Australian flavours to make recipes.”
Their aim was to not just introduce the product to Australia, but to see people using it as a staple for breakfast, quick lunch, pre-workout or afternoon snack. The next step for them is to put the products on the shelf.
Since most of the business is online, Renata eagerly awaits their monthly market stalls at Sydney Vegan Market.
“It would have been really difficult to be doing Taoca with a full time job if we didn't have great feedback and communication with people that we talk to at the markets, because it’s the only time we talk to people - once a month at the Sydney Vegan Market.”
Renata didn’t consider quitting her full-time job because architecture is another love of her life. She has always been a queen of different trades, trying her hands at many different areas of the creative industry.
She often thinks about the relationship between being a food entrepreneur and architect.
“Design and project management – both jobs involve these elements, whether you’re thinking about beautiful spaces or beautiful food, managing architecture projects or talking to suppliers, I’ve learnt things in each that I can apply to the other.”
Mentoring at FoodLab Sydney
“Talking to people really helped me, which is a reason why I really admire the FoodLab program. I learnt everything the hard way, without a food or business background. If I can make it easier for someone else, that’s pretty amazing.”
During the journey of starting Taoca, Renata and Bruno relied on different businesses and people for advice. They attended a few sessions of the Business Connect plan from the NSW Government and were mentored by tapioca businesses in Brazil.
Additionally, they made some great friends along the way who have helped them immensely. “We are very thankful for a couple of people that we had as mentors, especially Adam from Buddha Bowl and Claudio from The C Word.”
Hence, Renata decided to become a guest speaker and mentor for FoodLab to help people avoid the same obstacles she faced and give back. Her first involvement as a mentor was in cohort 5, but she is thrilled to continue working with FoodLab.
“The fact that I can just share a little bit of what I learned on my journey is so rewarding.”
“FoodLab is a fantastic opportunity to learn from business owners, all the aspects of starting and running a business. It is a safe space to talk about your ideas and concerns and hear feedback from people that have already gone through the early stages of a business.
I wish I had the opportunity to be a part of the group as a student when I first started Taoca, it would have saved me a lot of time knocking on other business doors looking for advice!”
You can also read more about FoodLab mentoring.