What’s happening with chicken favourite Oporto?

Sarah Stowe

Oporto founder Antonio Cerqueira and CEO Craig TozerOporto's founder and the new management team talk about the new look fast food franchise.

When you are custodian of an icon that still holds sway but has lost a little of its gilt over the years, it's time to dust it down, remember why it is so legendary, and bring it back into the light. And that's just what the team at Oporto has been doing. 

The Bondi Burger with its Original Chilli Sauce is famous in New South Wales, and increasingly around the country, as the go-to option in chicken burgers. It has formed the backbone of the Oporto business which was founded as Bondi Charcoal Chicken 30 years ago by Portuguese immigrant Antonio Cerqueira. 

Oporto has taken its menu back to its rootsWhen Cerqueira's success reached the point where he needed an injection of cash to take the chain further than its 13 stores, the Oporto franchise was born – back in 1999. 

Just eight years later the business which had added another 88 stores was sold to Quick Service Restaurants, now owned by private equity firm Archer Capital.  

In a move to maintain consistency across the chain, the Original Chilli Sauce which depended on fresh ginger, lemon and chilli was changed, and became a processed product. 

It turned out to be not such a good move.  

New management team

Oporto has modernised its staff uniform

Today's new management team, headed up by Craig Tozer, CEO, is now bringing back the Original Chilli Sauce, in consultation with founder Cerqueira. It's just one step in the re-focusing of the brand back to its core, back to basics, back to what the customers want.  

For a brand founded on the principles of fresh food, grilled not fried, and a unique spicy flavouring, the return to its roots couldn't have come at a better time. 

There is a consumer mood for authenticity, and an appreciation of genuine ingredients, and a brand with a real story, a real figure behind it. 

There's a greater awareness of eating well at fast food outlets and other brands in the sector have taken strides to update their menus and refurbish stores, and to put premium product at the centre of a casual dining setting. 

So it's refreshing that Oporto has adopted a slick new look to take the business into the next stage of expansion. Gone is the garish, takeaway colour scheme and dŽcor; now the emphasis on wooden tables, deep black walls and stylish seating resonates with today's consumer. 

That customer is predominantly the Millennial – and it is the Millennials who are most likely to be sporting the new staff uniform too; its t-shirt with slogans and screen prints is designed with them in mind. 

"Would they be proud to wear this on their way home?" is the question Craig Tozer asked when commissioning the designs. 

"Our uniform was bright orange, just not fit for purpose for a brand that's high quality." 

While the staff and target customers might be young, there are some customers who have loved the brand from way-back who are particularly happy to see the new menu and are thrilled that the Original Chilli Sauce is back where it belongs. 

"I had one customer dancing for joy – and he's coming back to buy tubs of it," says manager-turned Oporto franchisee Akanksha Taneja who owns the Penrith outlet. 

With such a great story to tell it's no wonder there are plans for marketing campaigns particularly in the highly relevant digital and social media channels. 

Former McDonald's recruit Tricia Southwell heads up marketing. "We've been talking to a lot of our customers and gained some great insights about what they love and where we sit in the market. 

"They love our food, they love the Bondi Burger. But love has waned in the experience, in what we're not giving them, not putting them at the centre. Bringing back the Original Chilli Sauce is a big statement, we are giving back to the customer." 

Putting the customer back in the centre of the equation is paramount for the business, and it demands a passion for customer service, and for great food, both of which Antonio Cerqueira has in abundance.  

How it all started: founder Antonio Cerqueira shares his view

"I arrived in the 1970s and struggled to find Portuguse style chicken. I saw the opportunity to offer something different in Sydney. I had the idea of a hot chicken shop and was in business with a partner for 18 months. We sold chicken and salads and the burgers attracted people from out of Sydney. 

"We opened our second shop after three years. We were Bondi Charcoal Chicken, then Portuguese Style Bondi Charcoal Chicken." 

When Cerqueira turned to franchising the chain of stores was named Oporto after the Portuguese town and football team. 

Then Cerqueira parted ways with the brand he had built from scratch. 

"I sold the business in 2007 because the offer was too good to refuse.  

"Then the company changed the chilli sauce. If it's working why change? Now the owners asked me to come back and bring it back. 

"So I'm bringing back the original sauce and the culture. People need to have a leader, someone  that they can believe in, someone behind the company. 

"I want it to grow to the number one Australian franchise. 

"We started a bit cheeky and lost it. We need to be ourselves and not change just because the business is growing.

"When I started as a franchisor, my ambition was to be big out there. I always believed. And I still love Oporto. I want the business to succeed.  I would still like it to be next to the big guys. 

"No-one can stop us as long as we do the right thing."