My feature of L'Artisan Foods in News Letter 14 June 2016

Jose Andre set up in business in Portadown with just £20 in his wallet! Today the small enterprise he started in 2013, L’Artisan Foods, has become an award winning producer of Portuguese influenced patisserie and savoury quiches and Coxinha, Brazilian chicken fritters, favoured by street food venders in Rio de Janeiro and other cities that are proving increasingly popular with cafes and delis across Northern Ireland.

Jose Andre
Jose Andre

He’s also attracting interest from leading delis in Dublin. Runner up recently in the first Food Heartland Awards run by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon councils, L’Artisan Foods has also won three Great Taste Awards from the influential UK Guild of Fine Food for his quiches and natas, richly flavoured Portuguese egg custard tarts. “Setting up in business here was quite a risk. While I’d been thinking about it for some time, the decision still came as a bit of a shock to Lucia, my wife, and daughter Camilla,” he remembers.

 

“I was driving a forklift for a company in Banbridge when I decided to call me wife and tell her what I planned to do. When I’d paid the household bills and bought food I’d just £20 left to start the business. It really was a step in the dark, but I was determined to succeed. I needed to succeed because I had a family to support. I didn’t have a safety net to fall back upon,” he adds. And succeed he has.

He rented a small bakery unit at Bluestone Business Park on the outskirts of Portadown with some potential customers retained from the previous owner for quiches, his first product. “I took samples to cafes and coffee bars throughout the Craigavon area but it was two months before I made my first sale. “While I was confident about the quality, taste and originality of my products I was beginning to lose faith,” he adds.

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, Sawers and Yellow Door.

Export sales in the Republic of Ireland are on the cards this year. 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 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. Born in Portugal’s historic Évora region, an important farming and food centre, Jose 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 had 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.

“There are excellent food businesses here and a host of superb producers of ingredients especially within the farming community. I am now working with these producers in the development of my quiches and tarts. We give priority to local ingredients wherever we can. All the eggs, for instance, used in our quiches and natas are locally sourced. The products are all handmade by the team here.” Lucia joined the business, helping him in creating and crafting the range of quiches and natas.

“The egg custard tarts were originally produced before the 18th century by monks at a monastery in Lisbon who loved French pastries. Convents and monasteries once used large quantities of egg-whites for starching of clothes. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country,” he adds. Jose’s success has led to new jobs in the small business, the payroll doubling to four in the past few months. It continues to focus on handcrafting products.