The man who has been selling baguettes at Pão Pão Queijo Queijo in Belém for 26 years
On a good day, more than a thousand units pass through Rufino Silva’s hands. He has worked at the restaurant since it opened in 1996.
The long queue that usually forms outside Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, in Belém, is only exceeded in length by the customers of the pastry factory. The space celebrates the 26th anniversary of its opening in August — and few people are unfamiliar with this project. Rufino Silva, 51, has been behind the counter since day one. Regular customers already treat you like a member of the family. On weekends they sell more than a thousand stuffed baguettes, the great classic of the house. Rufino still remembers one of the first times that the ingredients ran out, right after the opening.
“Sometimes we run out of products, it can happen. One of the first days was just a month after we opened. There was a Tina Tuner concert here at Restelo stadium [setembro de 1996]. We couldn’t replenish the stock, the queue wouldn’t end”, explains Rufino to NiT.
Since its opening, Pão Pão Queijo Queijo has specialized in baguettes and stuffed pitas. “In the beginning, things were simpler, with tuna, seafood and roast beef. Little by little, more varieties emerged.”
Currently the menu has more than 50 different fillings. “We started with a base and now we also have an option of the day. The ones that were most commented on and sought after by customers were included in the letter.”
Despite the dozens of suggestions, there are two that are the most requested from the beginning. “It’s the shoarma, kebab, and grilled chicken that customers order the most.” Even before working at Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, Rufino was already successful with baguettes — that’s why he was invited to be part of this project.
“I worked at A Padaria, at CascaiShopping. It was a baguette house. One of the suppliers gave my name to the partner who was going to open this house in Belém. He came to me, invited me and I accepted.” He is from Luanda, Angola, and has lived in Portugal for over 30 years.
When I worked at CascaiShopping I lived close to the shopping center, but I was thinking about moving. Accepting the invitation of Pão Pão Queijo Queijo made perfect sense. During these more than 25 years he has become the face of the house and does not use euphemisms to describe what he does there every day.
“I work super well, I’m a machine. I like to deal with the public, I always have a smile. I’ve always made a lot of friends, that’s part of it. And that’s also what made me stay this whole time.”
The routine is already well-oiled and Rufino doesn’t need to work 12-hour shifts like at the beginning of the project. All the ingredients are prepared in advance and placed in the cooking zone to fill the baguettes. It’s a kind of assembly line that goes into production as soon as the customer chooses the ingredients he wants to add.
“In two or three minutes we have to have the baguette ready to serve.” It is essential that this pace is ensured, especially at peak times, such as lunchtime. It all starts with preparing the baguettes. They are not produced there, but are always finalized in space. They have an oven that allows you to cook 25 units at once. They measure around 60 centimeters and are always divided in two. “They cook at 200ºC for four to five minutes.”
They sell an average of 700 or 800 baguettes a day. On weekends the number can reach a thousand. “We have all kinds of customers, from college students to high school students. At lunch we always have many young people in line. It makes me very proud to see the space like this, to see what I helped create.”
As soon as you enter Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, you will find the counter on the left where all the suggestions are prepared. The order is always made in advance. Having chosen the base and the ingredients you want to add, you can have your meal upstairs or on the terrace area. They have capacity for 40 customers.
Baguettes start at €3.95. In addition to the best sellers, other suggestions include the one with turkey breading, the one with chicken curry, the one with pork chops with bacon, cheese and egg; with streaky; with pork loin and one with anchovies and mackerel. If you decide to go to this space in Belém every day to eat a baguette, you will need almost two months to discover the entire menu.
Even at the time of the pandemic, when they were forced to close the interior, orders remained mainly for delivery, but also for take-away. “I even had the idea of opening a second store, but maybe I had to be in charge of both and that would be complicated”, reveals Rufino Silva.
Click on the gallery to learn more about Pão Pão Queijo Queijo.
It has capacity for 40 customers.