FALL RIVER — From the food to the ambiance, feel like a world traveler without stepping foot outside the city at Europa Pastries & Coffee Shop.
“From the moment you walk through the door you immediately feel immersed,” said Erica Couto, who runs the shop along with her husband, Kevin, and her brother, Andrew Ferreira.
“You have the sense that I’m no longer in Fall River anymore,” she added.
That authentic European-style cafe experience, combined with a diverse menu that prides itself on its traditional Portuguese fare but extends well beyond that, has been the Columbia Street eatery’s recipe for success for over two decades.
This month marked a milestone for Europa, and this family clan is excited to keep building on its 25-year legacy in innovative — and delicious — ways.
“We’re always pushing the envelope here,” said Ferreira. “We always say the Europa of yesterday isn’t the same as today and tomorrow’s Europa won’t be the same as today as well. That’s how we look at things.”
One such change was the recent addition of showstopping custom cakes to their business. Couto said their French-trained pastry chef Sarah Larose spent over 20 hours painstakingly hand-painting a cake featuring famous monuments of Europe for their 25th anniversary celebration earlier this month. The event served to debut their cake venture, as well as thank the community for their unwavering support.
“They’re the ones who help us beat our drum,” Ferreira said of his patrons, many of whom have been familiar faces for years. “They always push us to be our best self.”
“We’re very blessed that our customers have really embraced the changes we’ve done. A lot of them have been asking for it,” he added.
Europa got its start in the city in 1998, setting up shop in a building that in its past lives housed a library, variety store and pharmacy. When former owner Tiberio Tavares, who also previously ran Holiday Bakery in New Bedford, retired and put Europa up for sale, Couto and her family saw a sweet opportunity to make it their own.
“We love everything about Europe, it’s in Fall River, we grew up as kids coming to the coffee shop with our parents, and then it had the bakery aspect of it… my husband is the baker and loves to bake and my brother is into artsy gastronomy, so it was the perfect fit to bring everything into one,” Couto said.
The Fall River residents acquired Europa five years ago, and since then it’s undergone quite a transformation.
A building renovation in 2019 included more modern, aesthetic upgrades to the interior, as well as a revamped layout for more efficient operations.
While the former iteration focused heavily on Portuguese and Azorean influences, Europa’s new owners — all first-generation Portuguese whose parents immigrated from St. Michael, Azores — began the evolution into a business that was “more European rather than just Portuguese based.”
“When we took over we really embraced our Europa name,” Couto said.
Specialties include coffees, organic teas, European-style pastries and artisanal sandwiches, homemade soups, and more.
While Europa is most known for its traditional Portuguese sandwiches — with cacoila (marinated pork) being a top seller — and go-to’s like chourico and chips, their cuisine also encompasses other cultures, from Italian to French.
According to Ferreira, some newer sandwiches that have started to catch on with guests include their German-inspired chicken bratwurst sandwich.
On the sweet side, Europa has made a name for itself with its pasteis de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts, carrying on the winning recipe of the previous owner. But patrons can also take a culinary journey around the world with European treats such as tiramisu, cannolis and French Paris-Brest.
Their wider focus and attention to authenticity and detail is what sets it apart from other bakeries and cafes in the area, Ferreira said.
“We’re trying to continue to expand on our European influences so that it’s no longer just a Portuguese place,” Ferreira said. “Everybody in Fall River can go to a Portuguese place and everything kind of looks similar. Our biggest goal is to stand out from everybody else.”
That means they’re experimenting with Petit Gâteau (French for “small cake,” which has a crunchy rind but a soft and creamy filling), and different kinds of sweets reminiscent of what you’d see in a French or Italian pastry shop.
Menus are crafted by the three owners, who collaborate with pastry chefs trained in European style to concoct their sweet creations. Ferreira has a big hand in the savory side of the menu.
Their goal is to create “something that’s approachable to our clients here but something that’s different. Maybe something they haven’t had the chance to try,” Ferreira said.
“Regardless of what your background is — whether you’re Portuguese, Italian, Brazilian — it’s always nice to go somewhere and experience a different culture,” Couto said.
Being a family-owned business, family recipes passed down through generations — such as their sweet bread — are also brought into the fold. And the family feel extends beyond the kitchen and across the counter.
“We like to have everyone feel like family when they’re here as best as we can. .. to enjoy the camaraderie that we and the employees work toward,” said Ferreira, noting their team takes the time to learn customers’ names and offer a personal experience.
And it seems the community has really responded to that.
According to Couto, on the weekends — Sunday being their busiest day, followed by Saturday and Friday — there is often a line at the door waiting for tables. And during the week the indoor seating area, which accommodates 30 people, is always close to capacity.
This summer, for the first time, Couto said Europa will be offering a small area for outdoor seating on the sidewalk, which should come in handy in the warmer months.
While Europa has a core customer base of locals, once summer travel season picks up they get visitors from everywhere — as far as South Carolina and Washington D.C. — as well as folks from across the region who pop in on their way to Cape.
“It’s incredible,” Ferreira said. “We’re very happy that through the pandemic we’ve been steadfast and have been able to hold onto this business and bring our vision of Europa, and have it hopefully go on for another 25 more years.”
Europa Pastries & Coffee Shop is located at 65 Columbia St. They’re open daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., so drop in or visit europacoffeeshop.com or their Facebook page to get a peek at their menu.