CAMPO: the newest in Groupe Ferreira’s Portuguese restaurant collection
Though it’s been over a year since I was there, I can still smell the summer house’s wood smoke wafting over the briny Atlantic swells; taste the fresh-caught seafood, grilled meat and lively wines; feel the warm pulse of home-distilled aguardiente in my veins; hear the hissing of volcanic springs, and envision the stunning scenery that was – and is – the Portuguese Azores….
A year later, March in Montreal was decidedly not the Azores in April. For one thing, it was cold. And I mean damn cold. The kind of cold that makes you shudder uncontrollably at the very thought of venturing out to explore the city. So, nestled in the luxurious comfort of my room in the Lowes Hôtel Vogue, I opted for a slightly less challenging pastime, namely, poaching in my room’s whirlpool bath with a glass of wine and exploring Food Network reruns on my bathroom’s flat screen television.
What brought me to the great city of Montreal was … “An airplane!”, I hear you squeal. Well, yes, it was an airplane. Haha. Very clever. Yes, Air Canada physically brought me there, but what enticed me to pack my bags and leave a frozen Toronto for a positively polar Montreal was, of course, the promise of more Portuguese food (and possibly equally good Portuguese wine). I recently read a newspaper column where the writer said invitations to events should elicit one of two responses: either “no” or “hell yes!” The invite to chomp my way through the four Portuguese restaurants that comprised the heart of the Groupe Ferreira empire clearly fell into the latter category.
Groupe Ferreira is the gastronomic spawn of Carlos Ferreira, who, in 1996, opened Ferreira Café on Peel Street in the heart of downtown Montreal with a vision to bring Portuguese food – and culture – to Montreal. The restaurant quickly became the go-to place for Portuguese cuisine in the city, and business people met there regularly. Eight years later, Café Vasco da Gama opened just steps away from Ferreira Café, serving sandwiches and premium salads, and supplying catering services to eager gourmets. In 2014, Groupe Ferreira added another banner restaurant, Taverne F, which offers petiscos, a typical Portuguese dish meant to be shared.
My trip was not only to discover the pleasures of these established jewels, but to be introduced to the latest in the Ferreira crown: CAMPO. Dedicated to serving authentic Portuguese-style chicken practically any way you can envision it, CAMPO uses only 100 percent grain-fed chicken. Judging by the looks of the ravenous crowd that was packed into the restaurant for lunch, the simple recipe seems to be one for success.
Considering the popularity of the Ferreira restaurant collection today, it’s hard to envision a time when things weren’t quite as rosy. Quench editor Aldo Parise – a Montrealer for some time – recalls an era where the Ferreira name was associated with restaurants for “old rich people.” The diners at CAMPO appeared neither old nor rich. Something had obviously ushered in some change. As it turns out, the “something” may well have been “someone.”
Young, energetic and extremely personable, Groupe Ferreira’s Director of Operations, Sandra Ferreira, came on board in 2014 with some specific plans for the company’s rejuvenation and continued success. In between cramming mouthfuls of succulent grilled chicken down my gullet, I asked her about her vision for the restaurant group in general, and the specific opportunities she saw for future growth.
“Before starting, I saw an opportunity to give the Ferreira Group a succession plan (for the long run),” Ferreira explained courteously as I gnawed on a drumstick with all the finesse of a starving weasel. “From something as simple as giving my dad support, to coming to the business with different viewpoints and different strengths.”
As the first member with a university degree (Business Admin. and Marketing – a handy combo), Ferreira immediately started rolling out marketing plans and introducing more corporate structure into some of her family’s operations.
“When I started understanding the business better, I became a lot more involved with overall business strategies and business development for our restaurants,” we continued (her talking; me shoveling). “We wanted to bring the newer generation of business professionals to Ferreira, so I started Tuesday’s Wine Night and 50 percent off wines every Tuesday, while still retaining the real, all-quality Ferreira experience. It’s been working wonderfully!”
CAMPO was a natural extension of the restaurant group that allowed Ferreira the opportunity to put more of her vision into reality.
“When the open space next to Ferreira and Vasco became available, my father and I wanted to seize the opportunity to grow the network. We knew we wanted to do Portuguese chicken, since it is a very popular thing in Montreal. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. He trusted me, and let me take full control of the project.”
Ferreira’s goal with CAMPO was to merge more into the fast-casual restaurant business. “I wanted to create a concept that was extremely simple – take a single, quality product and make it the star. I wanted to do something seamless and, if it worked well, could become more than just one location. I had a lot of fun creating the branding!” Less than a year since its inception, Ferreira says of CAMPO: “So far, so good.”
Whether it’s the new-ish CAMPO, the more established Ferreira Café and Café Vasco da Gama, or the funky Taverne F – or if you just want to grab some of the Ferreira family’s authentic estate-grown wines and olive oil from one of their establishments or local grocer (sorry the rest of Canada, Montreal only) – you are pretty much guaranteed a memorable experience. Sandra Ferreira will make sure of it.