MARILAC, Brazil — In this remote valley of sugarcane fields and cattle farms, where horses and bicycles outnumber cars and poverty binds the community like mortar, people searching for a better life have one choice: They can leave town.
The most coveted destination has long been Boston — more precisely, one high-end local pizza chain. The promise of a job at an Upper Crust shop, passed by word of mouth from one villager to the next, offered the possibility of wages unheard of in Marilac, a community of 4,140 people in the mountains of southeastern Brazil.
Over the past decade, dozens of men from Marilac have made the 7,500-mile trek, risking arrest, deportation, and, in rare cases, death. And Upper Crust, founded by Sharon native Jordan Tobins in 2001, welcomed them.
Tobins needed lots of kitchen help; the Brazilians worked hard and didn’t complain about workweeks that routinely stretched to 80 hours. Marilac prospered as Upper Crust’s immigrant employees sent thousands of dollars home, and the company swiftly expanded from its original store in Beacon Hill to one upscale suburb after another.
Over time, however, this amicable but unlawful relationship would unravel.…