My Portugal Series - Michael Benevides

This month, we have a very special edition of My Portugal. In celebration of our 35th Anniversary, we're interviewing our own Vice President, Michael Benevides, to learn more about the history of Portugalia Marketplace and how the Benevides family built this business into the renowned Portuguese specialty grocer that it is today.
Portugalia Marketplace: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little about yourself and your family’s Portuguese heritage.
Michael Benevides: I was born on the island of São Miguel, Açores, in 1977. In 1979 our family immigrated to the United States, like many others at the time, in pursuit of the American dream. I was raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, along with many other immigrants. We grew up in an ethnic enclave, where lots of us had a similar life experience. We attended Portuguese festivals and churches, and we supported Portuguese-owned businesses. We were the children of factory workers. I attended Johnson & Wales University and graduated with a degree in Business Management. While in school, I worked in the family business, and after graduating in 1999, joined Portugalia Marketplace full-time. In 2001, I married my wife, Sandrine, and shortly after, we began to have children and I am the proud father to Julien, Sofia, and Sebastien.
PM: Portugalia Marketplace has now been in business for 35 years, and this month you’re celebrating 10 years at the current Fall River, MA location. How did the idea for opening Portugalia Marketplace come about? What did the early stages of the business look like?
MB: Our current location is the result of our outgrowing our previous one. We had successfully run a market and wholesale business for many years and were exploring opportunities for growth. Initially, we considered expanding our wholesale business, but then the opportunity arose to purchase an abandoned mill just a couple of blocks away from our existing location. It seemed like the perfect structure to house our new market, with all the personality and charm needed to create a food emporium. We made a move to acquire it, and the rest is history.
The goal of the new market was first and foremost to honor the ethnic community that had made the expansion possible, while also opening our doors to the next generations of Portuguese, along with those who were culturally curious. It was an attempt to showcase our culture to a broader audience, both our diasporic culture and our Portuguese heritage. We were interested in building a cultural destination.
PM: What have been some of the challenges of growing and operating a business like Portugalia Marketplace? What have been the most rewarding aspects?
MB: The challenges are endless, we have to continuously prove our relevance in the market.  Portugalia is a market for all, therefore we are in the business of servicing the Portuguese community along with all those who are new to Portugalia and Portuguese goods.  However, it is also very rewarding to see that we have created the conditions that now attract many new demographics, and to see the level of enthusiasm for our space and products is incredibly satisfying. One of the most rewarding aspects of the market has been to take a business my father started and to build upon it and expose the masses to our culture and heritage.
PM: How do you stay in the loop on current trends in Portuguese culture and ensure you’re carrying products from up and coming producers? Are there any new arrivals that you’re particularly excited about?
MB: I travel to Portugal about three times a year in search of new products and to meet with existing producers. During my visits to Portugal, I have a few favorite places I like to visit for inspiration. The country is currently in a phase where many new businesses are opening up, and there are numerous new places to explore and find inspiration, whether it's museums, cafes, restaurants, or shops. There is no shortage of places where one can be inspired. I am particularly excited about the housewares and design objects that I have been discovering lately.
PM: How do you balance carrying traditional customer favorites with new items from up-and-coming producers?
MB: At Portugalia, we are interested in preserving the staples and heritage brands that most Portuguese identify with and recognize, but we are equally interested in new brands, products, and producers from Portugal. We have achieved significant success with new brands as the demographics in the market have changed over the years. For example, the second and third generations of Portuguese, whom we have been fortunate to connect with during a time when we risked losing them, are highly interested in discovering more about their ancestral country. They are, for example, more curious about premium products and are keen on knowing about the backstory behind what they’re consuming.
PM: You’ve partnered with some incredible individuals over the years, hosting tours, book signings, concerts, and art shows. What have been some of your most memorable events?
MB: We have been very fortunate to connect with some incredible individuals since we opened our space. For example, we have hosted multiple food tours with Maria Lawton, known as The Azorean Greenbean, and these tours have been incredibly successful. In fact, we still have customers talking about them and expressing their interest in more tours. We have also had the privilege of hosting celebrity chefs such as George Mendes, who recently opened AMAR restaurant at the Raffles Hotel in Boston.
We have been featured on three PBS shows, notably "No Passport Required" with celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. Additionally, we recently connected with Portuguese supermodel Armando Cabral and supplied product for a ‘Made in Portugal’ launch party he held at his NYC boutique.
Furthermore, we hosted a dinner at Portugalia Marketplace for the FABRIC arts festival, an event I founded for Casa dos Açores da Nova Inglaterra. This event featured well-established visual artist Sonia Almeida and André Teodosio, a renowned and respected theater director from Lisbon.
PM: What’s next? Are there any new developments coming down the pipeline for Portugalia Marketplace?
MB: We continue to experiment with the space and product mix. We are continuously adding new products to the website, most recently incorporating newly sourced items from our design shop, Artigos. We are currently in the process of working on a seasonal popup shop in NYC with a collaborator; stay tuned for updates. We are also planning future events at the market and are committed to continually expanding the brand on a national scale.
Galo Barcelos Traditional Clay Rooster
Metafora Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Terrafina Salty Sea Pasta/Soup Plate - Set of 4
Avo's Pasteis de Natas
Porthos Sardines in Tomato Sauce
Serra da Estrela DOP Cheese