Fast food entrepreneur tastes success a second time

Life after a business sale? What Antonio Cerqueira, founder of Oporto, did next.

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What next, after you’ve made millions selling the takeaway business you turned into a 120-store franchise chain: kick back and improve your golf handicap or get straight back in the harness and do it all again?

The latter, says Antonio Cerqueira, the Portuguese immigrant who backpacked his way to Australia in 1976, stayed for a girl and decided to strike out in 1986 with Portuguese Style Bondi Charcoal Chicken, a takeaway shop in North Bondi selling the spicy tastes of home.

It was another nine years, in 1995, before Cerqueira’s one store became two. But that two became five, then 14, and then he and entrepreneur Gary Linz rechristened the chain Oporto and took it national. Via an ambitious expansion strategy, a decade later Business Review Weekly in 2005 called the chain the fastest-growing franchise in Australia.

Back in the game

A decade after selling Oporto to Quadrant Private Equity for a reported $60 million, Cerqueira is busier than ever, at the helm of Daily Fresh, a NSW food services business which has enjoyed exponential growth under his leadership.

Established in the 1970s, 30 years later the company was making the bulk of its $18 million turnover supplying Oporto when Cerqueira was offered the opportunity to buy in.

“It was a two-partner business but one of the partners was older and looking to retire,” Cerqueira says.

“He approached me to see if I was interested in 2007, shortly before we finalised the Oporto sale. I was in the food business as well and I thought, why not? That’s the way I like it, it’s in my DNA to work with food and people. So I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it’ and I bought 50 per cent of the company.”

Along with his stake in GAVS Group, a commercial cleaning business which turns over $13 million a year, and a consultancy with Oporto, it’s enough to keep Cerqueira out of the house from 6.30am until 8pm any given day of the week.

“I like the challenge of taking a small business with a structure that’s already doing well and building it to a big business,” he says. “You bring across some people and some capital and cash flow and work together to make it grow.”

Going for growth

The past decade has seen Cerqueira do just that. On track to turn over $68 million in 2017, Daily Fresh employs a staff of 85 and has a fleet of 25 trucks that deliver 3500 fresh and frozen lines to restaurants, schools and fast food businesses from NSW’s the Central Coast to Wollongong.

Orders range in value from around $250, for ‘mom and pop’ takeaways buying a few cartons of hot box fare, to $10,000 for pubs and clubs which order supplies by the pallet.

In 2009, Daily Fresh relocated from cramped quarters in inner-city Marrickville to a 4000-square metre purpose-built distribution centre in the western suburb of Regents Park. An extension currently under construction will add an additional 1500 square metres of storage space.

Focusing on customer service has seen the company increase its market share in a sector where tight margins and keen pricing have long been the norm.

“We push ourselves a little bit harder on service compared to the opposition,” Cerqueira says. “I’ve always believed if you get the service right – old school basics like listening, making sure you get what people ask for, delivering on time – people think twice about going somewhere else.”

Land of opportunity

A NAB customer since 2012, Daily Fresh has benefited from timely access to capital to fund the firm’s growth.

“When I need something they’re always there,” Cerqueira says. “They listen and they’re happy to help us because they see our business plan and they believe in the passion behind the business. They’re happy to work with us and we’re happy to work with them.”

Four decades have passed since Cerqueira arrived Down Under. Does Australia still offer the same enterprising and industrious opportunities to turn entrepreneurial dreams into reality as it did back then?

“Yes,” he says. “Any time is a good time to get into business, as long as you believe in it and have a passion to do it.

“Jump in – and remember that people are the key to success in any business; treating them properly and looking after them.”