Cafe Flavia's passion after tragedy

DREAM COME TRUE: Flavia Alves' Brazilian-themed restaurant - called Flavia's Bistro - opened on George St in Palmerston North yesterday.
DREAM COME TRUE: Flavia Alves' Brazilian-themed restaurant - called Flavia's Bistro - opened on George St in Palmerston North yesterday.

The bright green and yellow walls of Palmerston North's new cafe represent Flavia Alves' home country, but they're also a symbol of how she broke through her darkest days.

Flavia's Bistro opened to the public yesterday, in the space between Cafe Cuba and Youth Space on George St.

How Ms Alves got to this point is a story of overcoming tragedy, and her cafe reflects it. A shrine has been set up on one of the green walls near the back to honour her fiance Michael Hood and their 4-year-old daughter Natasha who were killed in a car crash in Feilding in February 2008.

The idea of owning her own restaurant emerged from the dark space Ms Alves was in over the months following the fatal crash, which happened while she was helping at a food stall in Palmerston North.

With little English and no family in New Zealand, Ms Alves' church, and her friends gathered round her "like family", prompting her to stay in Manawatu rather than return to Brazil.

They encouraged her to take her cooking skills further to prevent her "going crazy".

After giving birth to a son, Bryan, Ms Alves enrolled at UCOL, where she learned hospitality and English, and she set up her Brazilian food stall at the Feilding Farmers' Market and Albert St Saturday markets in Palmerston North.

Yesterday was the culmination of everything she had been working towards in the past five years, she said. "It's my dream come true. I was opening the doors and I was so nervous but the first people that came in were my friends, which made me feel better."

More than 35 friends have volunteered time and materials to help create Flavia's Bistro. She said she owed everything to her "angels".

"I was not depressed after the crash, I was just in shock. In seconds my life, and every dream we had together as a family, had gone.

"My friends, my angels, they saved my life. They gave me a new dream and now I have my baby and I have this store. Life is complete again. I am complete."

Flavia's Bistro has traditional Brazilian foods including coxinha - shredded chicken fried in batter - and her specialty Pao de Queijo - a type of cheese bread - all made by the Brazilian chef she has hired.

Coffee, a crucial part of South American culture, is being sourced from Peru.

As well as starting up Flavia's Bistro, Ms Alves has purchased Roma restaurant and will be helping run that at the same time.

She will also be caring for Bryan, who she suspects will enjoy the children's play area of the bistro. "I'm so busy at the moment. My eyelids, I was struggling to lift them last night, but I woke up this morning and I was so excited, ready to go."

Manawatu Standard