Almost 90 years catering for the Portuguese sweet tooth

Words: Ilídia Pinto

Starting life as one of Porto’s leading tea houses, today Arcádia is one of Portugal’s most beloved national brands.

The brand now has 27 stores in 10 cities, each offering a wide range of products, from chocolates, through almonds and liqueur dragées. Throughout its 87 years, Arcádia has insisted in constantly renewing and reinventing itself, and now offers macaroons and homemade ice cream.

It was on the Praça da Liberdade in 1933 that Manuel Pereira Bastos opened the Confeitaria Arcádia. Just 10 years later, in his book Livro de Ouro do Comércio e Indústria do Porto (Gold Book on the Commerce and Industry of Porto), Carlos Bastos described it as “one of the most modern pastry shops, one worthy of any European capital”, which was a frequent meeting place for “the most distinguished families in the north of the country” . However, what many do not know is that Arcádia first focused on catering, serving some of the most important banquets to have taken place in the Palácio da Bolsa and the Paços do Concelho, including catering for the visit of Britain’s Princess Anne to Porto in the 1930s. With 25 April and the following revolutionary period the demand for large banquets fell by the wayside, leading to the closure of the catering business.

However, in 1945, at 63 Rua do Almada, just a few metres from the first shop in the heart of Porto, Arcádia opened its chocolate factory where each of its products were carefully created. The growth of the company meant it had to move its productive units to new and larger premises far from the centre of the city, with the shop at Rua do Almada being remodelled. But the skilful hands, that for decades wrapped the chocolates and painted the liqueur dragées that have delighted generations of Portuguese and piqued the curiosity of so many of the tourists who visit the city, have not been forgotten. There remains a small area, behind glass, where customers can watch as the bonbons are made and the liqueur dragées are painted. “It is a small homage to the factory that was there for more than 70 years, for the company and all the people involved — employees and loyal customers — It is a brand that has survived wars, political upheavals and a number of economic crises. And which in 2020 was struck by the Covid-19 pandemic, from which, Francisco assures us, it will survive. Arcádia’s commitment to e-commerce began nine years ago, but it wasn’t until the lockdown that it began to take off. Online sales have grown, but the company wants them to grow even more. To this end, it is looking to improve the online customer experience, by guaranteeing 24-hour delivery throughout the country. It will do this as it continues its strategy of opening more physical stores, which could number 32 before the end of the year. The company has even considered opening a shop in Spain, but the negotiations have not gone too well. Francisco Bastos confirmed that the long-term goal is to open a network of shops in other countries. However, for now the focus is on the search for new products and flavours.

who have contributed to this story”, says Francisco Bastos, the fourth generation of the family to manage the company’s fate. The 200 staff, 60 of whom work in the factory and warehouses, include some who have been a part of the Arcádia family for more than 40 years.

According to Francisco, “Arcádia is 87 because each successive generation was able to adapt it to the social and political moment. This ability to adapt to change is the secret that has enabled us to continue catering to the Portuguese sweet tooth.”

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