Recently opened in the Brazilian city of São Paulo and designed by local architecture and design practice VAGA, the Cajuí Restaurant offers a menu of vegan, organic and natural ingredients supplied by small farmers from different regions of Brazil. Cajuí was named after the native species of cashew found in the Cerrado biome grasslands in central Brazil.
Lesser known yet right next door to the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado biome encompasses almost 800,000 square miles of savannas and grasslands — roughly the size of Alaska and California put together — and is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. It is home to 5% of the planet’s biodiversity, and many of the country’s indigenous people who live there rely on the ecosystem’s resources for sustainable livelihoods. According to the World Wildlife Fund, deforestation in the Cerrado is responsible for an estimated 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year; this is the same amount that 53 million cars would emit in one year.
Cajuí Restaurant is the brainchild of plant-based chef and São Paulo-native Natalia Luglio, who wanted to open an accessible restaurant in her hometown that prioritized organic, local ingredients. The unique biome of Cerrado serves not only as inspiration behind the name but also as an inspiration behind both the menu and the ambiance. Because of this, the designers wanted to pay special attention to the vibrant interaction between color, light and material in ways that alluded to the Cerrado.
The architects concentrated on creating ample natural light in between the exterior and the interior spaces by attaching an additional wooden structure to the body of the main building, which had been renovated. VAGA also added translucent roof tiles lined with organic jute on the ceiling so that the sunlight could shine through and influence the color depending on the time of day.
The red pigment in the cement floor of the restaurant mirrors the color of the Cerrado soil. Large plant beds were added to the staff area to hold some of the ingredients used on the menu. To keep the construction as sustainable as possible, almost all of the waste generated from the renovation was reused for additional projects, such as the waiting area deck, floor leveling and the bamboo ceiling in the back of the building.
Photography by Pedro Napolitano Prata via VAGA