Del Taco vet brings Aussie chain stateside

A veteran of Del Taco is introducing an Australian burger concept to the United States next week, only this chain features a different twist.

There’s no beef.

Oporto is a 130-unit quick-service chain born in Australia that specializes in chicken burgers.

The product, however, is different from the typical chicken sandwich common among American quick-service brands, said Arnold Dominguez, the chief executive of Cluck Limited, the brand’s master franchisee for North America. The company is opening the first U.S. location in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on Feb. 25.

For the opening next week, the first 100 people at the 11 a.m. opening will receive a free chicken burger.

Oporto was founded in 1986 in Bondi Beach, near Sydney, by Antonio Cerqueira, an Australian of Portuguese descent. The chicken served is marinated in a ginger-spiked blend, grilled, and then served with distinctive sauces such as the spicy chili sauce similar to piri piri; creamy or sweet versions of barbecue sauce; and lemon and herb.

The burgers are not “ground or chewed-and-glued,” as is common among American chicken sandwiches, Dominguez said. Instead, Oporto uses thinly sliced breast fillets that, when grilled, are tender to the bite, he said.

The menu also includes “rappas,” or wrap sandwiches for a smaller snack. And fries — called “chips” using Australian parlance — are seasoned with Portuguese flavors.

Dominguez, who previously was with Del Taco for 28 years, most recently as an executive vice president of operations, said he became interested in the concept after meeting with Oporto officials who wanted to bring the brand to the United States. The chain has a presence in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and China.

“I spent a month in Australia and just fell in love with the product. The flavors are so fresh and unique,” Dominguez said, adding that the concept’s ease of operation also made it an attractive franchising opportunity.

Although it’s a quick-service brand in Australia, Dominguez sees Oporto fitting into the fast-casual segment here because the design is slightly more upscale, with an Australian sports beach theme.

Prices will be in line with U.S. quick-service brands, however. Dominguez said a Bondi burger, for example, a signature item that features two grilled chicken fillets, lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise with “hot chilli” sauce, is about $6 with fries and a drink.

Oporto also offers breakfast — or “brekkie” — including egg and chicken burgers or burgers served with Australian bacon, a leaner style made with pork shoulder.

In a concession to American tastes, Dominguez’s Oporto locations will feature low-fat frozen yogurt offered for dessert or snacks. The concept will offer two flavors, vanilla and “Wipeout Orange,” with various toppings.

The first unit will be about 3,000-square feet and will not feature a drive thru, although future locations will.
Dominguez is planning to open additional units this year, both with drive thrus, in Ontario, Calif., and Glendora, Calif.

At that point he plans to develop the franchise program for further growth within the United States, he said. “We hope to have 25 units open within five or six years, both corporate and franchise,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]