“The only thing we argued about were the potatoes,” says Paula Taveira, who with her husband Carlos, took ownership of Rachel’s Cafe in South County Commons in February of 2020. “I wanted to use the frozen ones – I love them.” She chuckles. “But he insisted on hand-cut.”
Carlos won the argument and, after a lot of trial and error (it turns out low-sugar content potatoes are the key to giving fries their beautiful golden hue), Rachel’s Cafe features the hand-cut ones. But it’s not just the fries. All menu items at Rachel’s are fresh; there’s nothing frozen or from a can.
The entrepreneurial couple were looking for something to keep them busy in retirement. Carlos had worked slinging hash in breakfast joints as a teen, so purchasing the cafe felt like a natural fit. But it was a bit of trial-by-fire, with Carlos struggling to find his groove in the kitchen at the beginning. “Our reviews early on weren’t great,” Taveira concedes. “Every four dishes that went out, one came back. But we were determined to get it right.”
There might have been a learning curve, but it was one they gamely took on. It was important to them that the food coming out of the kitchen was scratch made. Enormous muffins – including staples like corn and blueberry, as well as seasonal specials like strawberry – are the first thing to go in the oven when Carlos arrives in the morning. Brisket is slow-cooked daily for their homemade corn beef hash. Hollandaise sauce is whipped up from scratch. Even the fruit salad is cut fresh from their daily delivery from Belmont Market.
“We didn’t want to do the same food as everyone else,” says Taveira. “You can get bacon and eggs at any diner. We wanted to do something special, unexpected.”
Indeed, the breakfast menu shines with creative flourishes in items like Oreo cookie pancakes and cinnamon apple French toast. On the savory side, their Portuguese benedict features a Mozambique hollandaise sauce and even their avocado toast is elevated with gorgonzola cheese, a fried egg, and a honey drizzle.
While they were finding their sea legs, COVID hit and the new restaurateurs were facing an uncertain future. “We were looking at each other like, oh my God, what did we just do?” recalls Taveira.
But when restaurants were allowed to open two months later, they offered take out. More trial and error followed, and with breakfast a bust for to-go orders, they pivoted to lunch and dinner instead, working later hours and leaning into their Portuguese heritage focusing on seafood specialties. The community in the South County Commons really came out and supported them, with the Taveiras hand delivering food to people who were quarantined in their apartments. “Apparently we were the talk of the dog park,” Taveira says with a chuckle.
The Taveiras are looking forward to welcoming back their seasonal regulars along with the summer sun. But, like other restaurants, the staffing shortage has them going into South County’s busy season with one less line cook in the kitchen, so they ask for patience from their customers while they try to navigate it all. “We want people to leave here happy,” she says.
South Kingstown, RachelsCafeRI.com
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