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Baking a business

From a family-run bakery to a small empire comprising a hotel, Pão do Rogil is one of the Algarve’s most successful businesses.

If you had to describe Pão do Rogil in words, a long list of synonyms for “delicious” would spring to mind. But for Anabela Claro, daughter of the founders of the well-known bakery in Rogil, near Aljezur, two words suffice: tradition and innovation. It is this dichotomy that best reflects the bakery’s history, which began in 1965, when her parents bought the small shop in the sleepy village of Rogil, and continues today, with a very successful family-run business that has blossomed into a small empire.

It all began with a bakery on Rogil’s ’high street’ (Avenida 16 de Junho), in 1952. The little business was purchased a few years later and then renovated by a local couple, Manuel and Isabel Claro.

Anabela’s parents built the family empire from the ground up by creating a staple product whose fame has grown way past the Algarve’s borders: the Rogil loaf, a sourdough loaf with a crispy crust, which is made in a style similar to delicious and filling Alentejo wheat bread, and baked in a wood-fired oven. “Bread is something crucial in my life. My childhood memories are profoundly connected to the scent of freshly-baked bread,” recalls Anabela, who is the couple’s only child and currently at the helm of Pão do Rogil. “We’ve always baked our loaves in wood-fired ovens, and it’s a tradition that we will keep for many years to come,” she adds.

While she is very determined in maintaining the artisanal roots of the business – to this day, her bakers still use natural yeast and shape and weigh every loaf by hand -, Anabela has breathed new life into her family business, not only by creating new and innovative products (such as the absolutely delicious sweet potato custard tarts), but also by introducing new work methods, turning Pão do Rogil into a modern company.

After studying Business Management in Lisbon, she returned to the Algarve and applied everything she had learned to her parents’ bakery, making it one of the few Algarve companies whose name is recognised nationwide, with products gracing the shelves of department store El Corte Inglés (in Oporto and Lisbon), and selected gourmet shops across the country, including Lisbon Airport.

One of her innovations was to make the most of traditional Algarve and Portuguese products and thus expand Pão do Rogil’s product range. From its basic sourdough Alentejo-style bread, the company expanded its range with seven new loaves: sweet potato bread, sweet potato bread with figs, sweet potato bread with walnuts, and oat, fibre, carob and rye breads. Two new varieties are also in the pipeline: a high-fibre loaf, which is low in carbohydrates, perfect for those with diabetes or other health issues; and an original malt loaf.

However, it’s not only the products that deserve her attention; she is just as focused in developing a modern identity for her brand. This is why she completely renovated the bakery in 2014, expanding it into a full-blown eatery. Now with a contemporary décor and an inviting outdoor terrace, Pão do Rogil is a bright and airy establishment, serving everything from sandwiches, pasta dishes, hamburgers and pies to a wide variety of gourmet products, all developed under the Família Claro brand.

The restaurant also serves as a support facility for a project which Anabela says is very much her own – the Alcatruz Hotel, which she opened 13 years ago, a few steps away from the bakery. With 20 rooms and three studios, the hotel features a maritime theme throughout, with bright and modern rooms that evoke the charm of the Vicentine Coast.

But for now, she is focused on two other projects: improving her service at Pão do Rogil, which could be slow in the summer months due to the overwhelming number of customers, and opening a shop-cum-museum next door to the family’s original bakery.

The latter project, which is undoubtedly the apple of Anabela’s eye, has to be the museum space adjacent to the main Pão do Rogil bakery, which will double as a shop selling bread the old-fashioned way (the bread is laid on a special table and covered with a gorgeous antique embroidered towel for clients to choose from), as well as the Família Claro organic and gourmet products. Besides providing customers with a quicker service, as they won’t have to wait in line along with the restaurant customers, the shop also tells the story of the Claro family and showcases many of the old implements, which were used in the bakery throughout the years.

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By ANA TAVARES