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Merthyr Tydfil Sees Launch of Fifth Portuguese Owned Business

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Merthyr Tydfil town centre is developing an increasingly continental flavour, having just seen the launch of its fifth Portuguese-owned business.

José Carvalho and Suzana Santos have opened Oporto Grocery Store, a delicatessen selling a range of produce including food and drink imported directly from Portugal, with fresh breads and deli items sourced locally and made to traditional methods.

The shop is the eighth to be established through the County Borough Council’s innovative ‘Meanwhile’ programme, which gives local entrepreneurs business support and short-term rent-free accommodation in vacant premises.

Businesses nurtured by the scheme which have continued to stay in their premises after a successful first six months include JOL’s Restaurant, Lunah Tearooms, The Bait Shack – the only fishing tackle and accessories shop in the county borough – and upmarket upcycled goods store Furniture Reborn.

Council Leader Cllr Kevin O’Neill said the town centre was continuing to grow a culture of niche independent stores enhancing Merthyr Tydfil’s vibrant and varied economy.

“I’m extremely proud of the achievements the authority has made in our support of budding entrepreneurs, like José and Suzana,” he added.  “It’s not just the assistance in providing a property, but all the behind the scenes help in terms of business planning, financial support and skills development from the Merthyr Tydfil Enterprise Centre.”

Cllr O’Neill said the aim of Oporto was to not only provide the local community with access to ‘wonderful’ foods, but also to raise the awareness of Portuguese culture and to integrate fully into the community.

“The project is a true example of partnership that supports entrepreneurs – in conjunction with the landlords – to reduce the number of vacant properties and extend the offer of goods and services to the community.”

Oporto follows in the footsteps of established Portuguese-owned businesses Portugalles café/bar, The New Crown Inn, Benditos and Docé CakesThe Merthyr Tydfil area is thought to have around 1,000 Portuguese speaking residents, many of whom moved there to work at the former St Merryn Meat processing plant and were later joined by their family and friends.

Dr Lesley Hodgson, Chair of the Merthyr Tydfil Global Village, said she believed there were almost 1,000 people from the Portuguese speaking community in Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding area.

“I use the term ​Portuguese speaking community because people come from mainland Portugal, Africa and Brazil and we often tend to call them all Portuguese – which isn’t correct,” she added.

Dr Hodgson said initially key skilled workers were encouraged to move to Merthyr Tydfil to work in the meat processing plant, St Merryn Meat – now owned by 2Sisters Red Meat Ltd.

“Those workers then spread the word about work opportunities to their friends and families back home.  We’re different from other areas, here whole families settled in the area with their children in local schools.

“The Portuguese speaking community can now be found in almost all factories and areas of the town.  And, of course, the Portuguese are great entrepreneurs – as evidenced not only by this business, but also the other Portuguese owned businesses in the area.”

Lisbon-born Suzana has lived in Merthyr Tydfil 16 years, while José – from Porto – moved to Wales 13 years ago.  Both used to work at the former St Merryn meat plant, with Suzana having also volunteered for Home Start and at St Illtyd’s Primary School as a teaching assistant.

Suzana said they chose to open a grocery store because there was nothing else like it in the area and people interested in Portuguese produce were having to travel to Cardiff to buy it.

“It’s not just for Portuguese people who have settled here,” she added.  “It’s also for people who enjoy cooking and trying different cuisines.”

Meanwhile is supported by the Merthyr Tydfil Enterprise Board and Merthyr Tydfil Enterprise Centre (MTEC), which comprise representatives of the local authority, Business Wales.