From a young Portuguese migrant arriving on Aussie shores, to the owner of a $200 million franchise, Antonio Cerqueira is the embodiment of a migrant success story.
Despite leaving his home country at the age of 18, he never left his roots. In fact, it was his background that encouraged him to start up his own business.
In 1986, after realising a gap in the market for Portuguese cuisine, Antonio opened his first store in North Bondi, selling Portuguese chicken with Piri Piri sauce – a rarity in Australia at the time.
However, he didn’t anticipate how popular his flame-grilled chicken and chilli sauce would get.
“I was getting good feedback every time the customers they come, they taste the chicken, they always come back and they love it.”
“The first four years we started to build the business, sales increased. It wasn’t just 5 percent; it was like 20 percent in a year. By 11 o’clock in the morning, there was a queue for the doors to be opened. As soon we opened the doors till 9 o’clock at night, it never stopped,” he says.
To cope with demand, Antonio opened his first Oporto franchise in Balmain in 1995.
Eventually, that one franchise blossomed into 140 franchises across Australia and New Zealand. This year, on its 30th birthday, the franchise brings in annual revenue of $200 million.
In 2007, Antonio received an offer he said was “too good to refuse.” He and his business partner sold the business to Quadrant Private Equity and Quick Service Restaurant Holdings and Antonio was ready to retire after 21 years of service to his creation.
“I think at that time it was a good decision. If it was today, I’d think different,” he says.
“You learn and become wiser."
It wasn’t long before his business beckoned him back to the frontlines. This year, he returned as a consulting advisor to revitalize the business and help it adapt to coming trends. With the rise of café culture and demand for healthier meal options, many fast food chains are in decline. Oporto and Nando’s are the only two that have seen growth in recent times.
“Times have changed and we need to change too. Oporto is doing that very well. They’ve changed the store.”
“It looks like you’re not in fast food, it’s like you’re in a café.”
Despite his little English and even less business experience, Antonio’s determination to succeed surpassed those barriers, though he does admit selling a high-quality product does help.
“I hate the word 'lose'. I like to win. It's my spirit to win. When I invested, I don't see why I wasn't going to succeed. It was a new product, it was a new business, and if you work hard, and you sell quality, and you do the customer service, I think we have a business to succeed.”