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Montclair Restaurant bucks the trend with smaller portions and lower prices

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MONTCLAIR, NJ – If there's one thing Montclair restaurateur Ilson Goncalves isn't afraid of, it's taking a well-calculated risk. His latest move? He lowers prices for his customers by offering smaller portions.

Goncalves, the chef and owner of Samba Montclair, is known in the local culinary scene for preparing truly delicious Brazilian dishes at his restaurant at 7 Park Street. Since opening in 2010, Goncalves — who was diagnosed with celiac disease — has made his restaurant 100 percent gluten-free. Also causing a stir was its promise to offer a “completely authentic farm-to-table experience” with locally grown organic meats and produce – often from the renowned Brazilian markets in Newark’s Ironbound District.

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But high quality doesn't come cheap, emphasizes Goncalves. Hence his latest business move.

“Given the high cost of food for everyone, we are reducing lunch prices to make dining at Samba more affordable,” he recently announced.

“Honestly, I've never seen price drops like this in our area,” Goncalves told Patch, adding that he got the idea from a restaurant he visited in Miami.

Goncalves explained the reasons for the decision in an email to Patch.

“I've always been very generous with portions and have seen this in other restaurants, but I'm sure there's a lot of waste there, as we've discovered. For example, all of our lunches consisted of rice and beans, but if people didn't eat them, we threw them away. Now we offer a choice of two sides for lunch, so people can order whatever they like from rice, beans, French fries, yuca fries, fried sweet plantains or seasonal vegetables. People like having options.”

Will guests notice the “smooth” change in portion size? “For some dishes, yes,” Goncalves confirmed before releasing the updated menu. But he added an important caveat.

“They've always been big – so I think they're the right size,” he explained.

Patch caught up with Goncalves this week to see how his customers have received the change. According to the restaurateur, the reaction was “quite positive”.

“Some customers told me that they found lunch a bit expensive, so they were pleasantly surprised when we lowered the prices and changed the menu,” said Goncalves.

“It will take some time before we see if earnings change, but I am seeing more volume, which is great,” he added. “Regulars now come back for lunch more often.”

For now, Goncalves continues to view the new portion sizes as a test.

“Maybe we’ll try something similar on a weekday to spice it up and give guests something special,” he said.

SAMBA MONTCLAIR OWNER: “REINVENTING ME”

In 2020, the Montclair resident made a bold decision amid the coronavirus pandemic by expanding the business next door and nearly tripling the restaurant's outdoor capacity.

“I believe in moving forward and constantly reinventing myself,” Goncalves said at the time, noting that he had to sell his home to survive the business downturn. See Related: Montclair restaurant owner makes bold move, expands amid COVID

It was a bold step for an unprecedented time. Unfortunately, fate had another nasty surprise in store for Goncalves and his beloved restaurant: Hurricane Ida.

Samba Montclair was one of many North Jersey businesses hit hard by the recent storm and flooding. The entire basement – ​​including all food storage, supplies and air conditioning – as well as the restaurant's outdoor dining area and planting were destroyed. Meanwhile, the newly renovated main dining rooms were also damaged.

The recovery effort was supported by a GoFundMe campaign, which continued to receive support from the community – for which Goncalves was grateful. See Related: First COVID, now Ida: Montclair restaurant owner isn't giving up

Gonçalves is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and author of “The Samba Montclair Gluten-Free Cookbook.” He lives in Montclair with his husband and two French bulldogs.

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