Award-winning Craigavon bakery brings flavours of Brazil and Portugal to Northern Ireland
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Delicacies he’s launched here through L’Artisan Foods, the multi-award-winning small enterprise that he runs with wife Lucia include Pastel de Nata Portuguese egg custard tarts and Coxinha, Brazilian chicken fritters, favoured by street vendors in centres such as Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, the South American nation’s capital.
“We’ve been delighted to win a string of UK Great Taste awards, including last year for our unique Chicken and Broccoli Empanada, a product with Spanish and Portuguese influences,” Jose Andre says.
“Our patisserie, quiches and other delicacies - all handcrafted -are now popular with delis and restaurants here and further afield."
He’s also won a gold medal in Blas na hEireann, the Irish National Food Awards.
He’s certainly well on way to achieving his mission to “bring the flavours of the world” to consumers here.
Jose and Lucia set up the business in 2013 to bake a range of tasty pastry and snacks at the small bakery at Bluestone Business Park on the outskirts of Portadown.
It was a decision, he confesses, was “a bit of a step in the dark” for the family including daughter Camilla.
“I had to do the rounds to delis, cafes and restaurants to sell them products they’d never seen or tasted before. I took samples to cafes and coffee bars throughout the Craigavon area but it was two months before I made my first sale,” he remembers.
“While I was confident about the quality, taste and originality of my products I was beginning to lose faith.”
Perseverance produced rewards in the shape of a contract from a local café. He hasn’t look back.
The small food business is going from strength to strength with customers including gourmet coffee chain Synge and Bryne, CoffeeArt, which commissioned Jose to come up with a new and meaty sausage roll, and high-end delis such as Arcadia, Sawer’s and Yellow Door.
He’s also opened a small deli beside the bakery and stocked it with own products and many from other local artisans.
Food production was an obvious career move for him. He originally came to Northern Ireland to help leading food companies here recruit employees from Portugal to take on tasks, especially in meat and chicken production, that they couldn’t find locals willing to undertake.
An experienced manager, he worked for an all-Ireland recruitment consultancy in both Dublin and Belfast.
An engaging and immensely positive personality, Jose has made a host of friends especially in Armagh, where he’s now an integral part of the local food community and a supporter of Food Heartland promotion initiative run by the local council.
He’s also a member of Food NI, the main promotion body and is widely respected in the wider food industry.
Born in Portugal’s historic Évora region, an important farming and food production centre, Jose, however, spent most of his life in Brazil, where he met wife Lucia and ran a number of small businesses including a restaurant and deli. He was just two years old when his father, an electrical engineer, moved the family to Brazil. His father, also Jose, was to become managing director of the big Philips operation there.
Jose subsequently worked in export-import management before deciding to set up a restaurant in his Brazilian home town of Porto Alegre, the largest city in the south of the huge South American nation.
“I’d always loved food and been keen on the industry. Porto Alegre has a very diverse and cosmopolitan cuisine with German and some Portuguese influences. The restaurant scene, however, was also intensely competitive.” Margins were “very, very tight”. A severe downturn in the Brazilian economy didn’t help the small business.
What it did was to encourage Jose to look beyond his adopted home and to explore opportunities in Britain for his management skills. Another influence on his decision was a desire to improve his knowledge of English. A friend suggested he should look at Ireland because of the growing demand within the food industry for workers.
He found employment with a recruitment agency in Dublin and was then given the task to helping food processors in Craigavon in particular to hire production staff from Portugal.
He moved north and began making contacts within the region’s biggest manufacturing industry and subsequently set up L’Artisan Foods.