In São João da Madeira, when one visits the Avenida da Liberdade for the first time and stops at nº 681, to ask for one of the famous hotdogs or bifanas of Tono Bombeiro, you may find it curious that, on the other side of the street, there is a roulotte with the same name. Well, this roulotte encloses the history of the varied route that this brand has known, from the icy summits of the Freita mountain range to the present location.
Our story begins in a fortuitous way: Maria Alice Pinto Silva, a native of São João da Madeira, went to the hospital in Porto to visit her mother and met António Manuel Santos, with whom she developed an immediate friendship. It was not long before this friendship turned into dating and later, in 1979, in marriage. António moved to the city of industry and worked several years as warehouse clerk. Maria Alice was a shoe maker (working from home) and continued to work in the area, however, the couple soon realized that their earnings, together, did not represent a great future.
They decided to create their own business, something in which they could see their efforts better rewarded. They asked for a loan, which tied a weight on their backs and a ten-foot roulette to the back of the their car, with the intention of selling hotdogs and drinks at parties and fairs. One could say that from this moment on, the business had everything to gain traction. However, the couple's citroen had other ideas. It had neither horses nor traction for the task and so they were obliged to make another investment: a second-hand nissan patrol. With the new vehicle, they went to their first party as businessmen, in Vale de Cambra, more specifically Nossa Senhora da Saúde (Our Good Lady of Health). Now, as for the little patrol, there was neither lady nor health that could have saved it: their were left on foot before arriving to their destination. They finally arrived at the party, at 2 am, with the help of Antonio's brother and they did not even have electricity to use. Fortunately it was the owner of the bumper cars that made a connection available... At the end of the trip, Antonio, who had sold all his stock, considered that 'amidst all the bad luck we were fortunate'. At the second party in Pé de Moura, he also had problems, when he was asked, on a whim, to remove the roulotte from the space previously agreed upon. He managed to stay at the party, only by the intervention of a friend who also did business there. In the third party, in Santa Eufémia, the muddy and uneven terrain did not even allow the roulotte to be settled...
It was a new life, full of obstacles and difficulties. Maria, who arrived from the parties at the dawn of day to still make shoes, had to attend to serious health complications of her mother, which left each one to fight their own battles. But the couple did not give up. Antonio traded his patrol, which in fact already deserved a rest, for a new model and, with the intention of not being conditioned by the winter, when the parties were scarce, he decided to acquire an Iveco van, which he adapted for commercialization of farturas and bar, as well as a generator that solved the electricity issue once and for all. This new strategy was aimed at the audience of Freita’s rally. And what a strategy! When he set up shop for the first time, Antonio exclaimed that 'they almost ate the car!' Only the question remained, that of a space that Antonio could use at will, and fortunately this question was solved by Mr. Alberto, who, seeing Antonio's great effort and dedication, gave him a space for his business. Finally, an electric panel was installed in the area and the business started, at this time, to gain fame in the mountain range of Freita. Antonio was eternally grateful to this small-great gesture, and to this day he considers Mr. Alberto family. On the other hand, Maria, who was working in the fairs in the summer with her children, would take from boiling oil farturas that would be known across Portugal.
All these tribulations, however, leave their mark. Maria's health weakened, which led the couple to think of a less exhausting lifestyle, and it was Mussulo's cooffe shop in São João that allowed for this possibility. The coffee was very run down and the deal to aquire it stayed in limbo for a while until they had the financial capacity to breath life into it. António, a long time volunteer firefighter, decided to name the house that all the residents in São João would know: Tono (Antonio) Bombeiro (firefighter). Initially they had daily dishes, but ended up focusing on what brought them fame: hotdogs, bifanas and snack bar in general. They recently introduced the francesinhas with homemade sauce, made fresh every day in the morning and that can also be requested for hotdogs. During the week, the snack bar is filled with students and in weekend, of young couples who enjoy the excellent terrace to relax. In Maria's words, the secret of the house is the same as always: 'You have to work with love and not just think about making money. You need a certain people skills. '
Nowadays, the roulotte is already parked and the couple has more stability, but they will never forget those early days when getting work done was synonymous with descending a frozen mountain range with the roulotte’s anchors dragging on the ground, to prevent it from losing control and worse. It's good to see that honesty and hard work are still rewarded. What remains is the memory of a difficult time as well as a bright panorama of the future, because those who go to Tono Bombeiro do not forget the famous bifanas, hotdogs and francesinhas.
A dream that started small and ended up huge. Praiseworthy!