Today we’d like to introduce you to Richard Di Virgilio.
Richard, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I stared Oporto cafe off Richmond and Wesleyan in 2006 as a tiny wine bar that serves small plates with a Portuguese influence. At the time I had no money and no support. I basically was 32 years old and had enough of working for people in the restaurant business and wanted to begin my dream of owning my own business and putting my culinary knowledge and experience to the test. So on a trip to go see my mother in the island of Madeira, Portugal, I began writing my business plan to create a small “snack bar” that serves wine in a cozy atmosphere. At the time wine bars were just beginning to become a thing. So when I got back from my time away, I began scouting locations and came across this little place in a strip mall across from the old HISD school building. The school building would cause a problem with liquor license, but coincidentally that summer the building would be getting demolished which meant I would be the only one with a liquor license in the immediate area. Also the space was small enough and cheap enough that I could get started with very little money. So I got an investor for a relatively very small amount of money…and went for it! Next thing I knew I was in a space with no kitchen, no decor, no staff, and no extra money after acquiring all the licensing, lease costs, and start-up costs.
I had to remodel, paint, clean, organize, conceptualize while staying open the whole time, in order to generate some income. My goal was 300$ a day! Which I never really hit. So for 4 months as I waited for my liquor license to be approved, I acted as a coffee shop selling coffee and Panini sandwiches. This was tough. Not sure how we made through those months, but somehow I managed to start cooking on a camping burner, a George Foreman grill, and an electric oven as my kitchen line. At the time the Italian restaurant next door was very popular and had long waits. Which meant I had an opportunity to seize customers! I began with a tiny menu of 8 items or so.
And once I got my license to sell wine, I sold wine to the BYOB Italian restaurant customers. One by one they would stop in look around, and see that the place had been re done, and looked like a cool sidewalk restaurant you find in NYC or Europe.
My father and I had done a very quick inexpensive remodel, building a wooden bar, wine racks, etc. …Well to make long story less long, they would try the food, and slowly start staying and having dinner and wine with us! The word started to spread and each week began getting busier and busier. A few months later a group of women would come in daily for happy hour. One of them was a professional corporate banker, and an amateur chef, named Shiva. She would later join me in the kitchen and become my wife! Business began to boom, and eventually turned that little strip center cafe into a million dollar business. Four years later in 2010, we opened a second concept called the queen Vic pub and kitchen. Thus time with a little more money, but still built out by me and my dad. The place was an immediate success and still going strong. In 2015 I finally had a chance to open my dream restaurant that I would have opened 10 years earlier had I had the funding. The acclaimed Oporto fooding house and wine on west gray. A premier location below an apartment building which faces river oaks on the outskirts of midtown. This Oporto would have 3 full kitchens a pizza oven, wood burning grill, the works!
Though many things have changed over the years, and had the good fortune to grow our business. The one thing that stays the same is the hard work and dedication it takes to make it in the restaurant business. I still work 7 days a week. My wife and I run all aspects of the business and have wonderful employees that have helped us achieve our dreams.
Has it been a smooth road?
Well struggles would be an understatement. It has been very difficult, from starting out with no money, and no ownership experience I had to figure out how run a business and not just make food and drinks. Taxes, payroll, insurance, etc. not knowing how we would pay rent with the low sales the first 6. Months.
Also we had some major road work during our second year at Queen Vic, which basically closed off our entrance. Things got so slow because customers couldn’t get to us. Then as I was opening Oporto fooding house or “02” weeks before we to start build out, my dad (a contractor) was supposed to do the build out. Well he had a stroke and was hospitalized for 2 years before passing. So basically I had to find a new GC in a few weeks and get the project going.
All the while suffering becoming emotionally ill seeing my father bed ridden and paralyzed. A year later before getting ready to open, I had also just had my son Tiago in October. So basically, I had a new massive restaurant to open (without my wife/partner), a dying father in hospital, and a newborn baby. It was very tough, but knew I had to get it done for my family. So yea many struggles…
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Our parent company is called Rishi Hospitality. We proved a unique dining experience with emphasis on quality and hospitality. I am the executive chef/ culinary director/ operator. Our restaurants, have great balance of food and drinks. There is no other place quite like Oporto in Houston. We have a Portuguese inspired kitchen, an extensive old world wine list, and warm casual yet elegant atmosphere. We are known for our delicious small plate’s for sharing, as well as our beautiful decor. To quote one of our regulars “it’s like going to Europe without a passport”
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Houston is the perfect city for a restaurant like Oporto. The international climate and economy is like no other city. Houston is so diverse, and offers such a great quality of life, that many people who visit often end up staying. I would recommend starting out in Houston. It’s where anyone with ambition and will can achieve the American dream.
- Address: 125 west gray suite 500
Houston, Texas 77019
- Website: Www.oportomidtown.us
- Phone: 713-528-0115
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @oportomidtown
Richard Di Virgilio