Benard is not just a sign of a time, a testimony that is left there, spreading the smell of coffee and cakes that we devour with our eyes as we pass by its door on Rua Garrett in Lisbon. Travel Tomorrow delved deep into Benard as it is not only a simple confectionery, “having gone through multiple regimes, civil wars and fires without ever closing its doors. Only the invisible enemy that generated the current pandemic could manage to do it, but for only two months”, proudly says João Pedro Montes, the head of marketing and strategy for Benard, son of the current owner and grandson of the person who brought the iconic pastry shop to his family. Maria Augusta Montes was an admirable lady for her entrepreneurship and her kindness. She was very much ahead of her times and managed to bring Benard to celebrate its notable 150th anniversary in 2021. But let us travel in time to its early days…
1. How did it all begin?
It was once said that Lisbon was Chiado and nothing else… it was maybe the reason why, on 26th August 1868, Eli Benard centered her life in two of the main arteries converging at Chiado. It first started at Rua do Loreto, having later moved to the iconic Rua Garrett. Elie was the owner of french bakeries, having also traded gloves, perfumes, ceramics as well as toys. His essential trade earned him the Ordem de Cristo [Order of Christ], also ending up being nominated as the supplier of the Portuguese and Italian royal palaces.
In 1902, Casimiro Benard inherited his father’s food business and transferred to Rua Garret, now under the name Patisserie Benard. This new shop was next door to the parfumerie and glove shop created by Elie, now managed by Pedro Benard. The two brothers benefitted from the same sophisticated clientele. The newspaper Diário Illustrado then wrote “One can tell that Patisserie Benard is nowadays the «rendez-vous» of our elegant society”.
Renovated in 1914, Benard presented itself as a model business within its genre, a place where ladies, while strolling around Chiado, wished to be seen. João Pedro Montes tells us “it was the only place where ladies could be left alone chattering”, as back then it was rather not well seen that ladies left home unaccompanied by their husband or any other man of their family.
At Bernard, women enjoyed a unique freedom and the exquisite service of tea, coffee, milk and chocolate that made guests want to stay longer and socialize. From the multitude of delicacies produced at the time the broa [sweet bread] or the delicious bolo-rei [king’s cake] would clearly stand out.
Years later, the Benards sell their confectionery, but under a new management it was condemned to bankruptcy and would soon close its doors. It was then that, taken by her emotion felt from many joyous evenings spent there, Maria Augusta Montes decided to buy the unique brand and to continue doing history.
2. Benard: Tradition and innovation walk hand in hand
João Pedro Montes told me his grandmother was a fierce supporter of the arts, friends with many actors, many cultural evenings were enjoyed with them, speaking of the shows that she often supported.
It was thanks to her that Benard staged so many musical soirées, fashion shows, among other cultural rendez-vous, a kind of remembrance of the early days when Almeida Garret often visited this monarchy-supporting pastry shop, and which many icons of Portuguese literature attended, including poets who often were inspired by it. It would also host, at the time of the Second World War to which Portugal was neutral, a few spies, which added up to its mysticism.
Even Queens such as Elizabeth II passed by this shop, where French produce could be found blended with others sourced from other countries, which combinations gave origin to notable delicacies that are still displayed at this special pastry shop, as if they were coloured works of art. Specialties such as croissant, bolo-rei or éclair are the delight of all who come by.
In the old days, such delicacies were delivered to various locations, something clearly innovative, “a kind of a uber eats of the time”, says a smiling João Montes.
It is with some nostalgia that he remembers the little cabins at the beach that sold its specialties and which brought these little treats to the people on the beach in baskets.
Nowadays, they also strive to be different. João tells us that “the site uses artificial intelligence to suggest the client according to their historic of purchases or by remembering their anniversary”.
He also remembers that they have always provided catering to events, targeting families, companies, embassies, or even royal weddings, such as that of King D. Carlos, reminding us of their role as the official supplier of the Portuguese and Italian Royal Palaces.
3. “Here, the customer is King!”
Above all, something that has always been kept is the custom relationship with their customers, or, as João Pedro staunchly affirms, “the customer is king!”, then illustrates: “our workers, who have been in the house for many years, know what many of our clients want by heart, and we have our master and chef, for example, who has been with us for over 40 years”. On the other hand, during the worst times of the pandemic, albeit with closed doors and with our staff at home, no workers were dismissed because they are like family to us”.
Such fraternity and the friendly environment in this house is felt by all of us, and we owe it to the entrepreneurship of Maria Augusta, a woman so ahead of her time and who, at a time, had 700 women working for her in the textile industry, which is how she started her path; she travelled and brought new ideas that she discussed with figures of the national fashion scene, but Maria Augusta could be successful in any field, regardless of the industry, from fashion to real estate… a really remarkable woman.
At Bernard, she prescinded from the organization of banquets and meals outside to focus on own production, using only natural ingredients.
In 1987, the terrace was inaugurated simultaneously with that of A Brazileira, a delight to the eyes of many Lisboans and tourists, but just one year later, Lisbon woke up to a terrible fire on Chiado. Those were three long days of a fight against the flames that left a trail of destruction and which led to a new reconstruction of Pastelaria Benard, which, despite being saved from the fire, suffered some damage. Once refurbished, they continued to delight all who pass by the heart of Lisbon.
4. Benard, 150 years of history in a book
In this year of 2021, Benard celebrates its 150 anniversary and, as a memorial, a book was launched: “Benard, A century and a half sweetening Lisbon”, written by José Bernardo Galvão Teles, a consultant in History and Heritage, an academic and correspondent to the Portuguese Academy of History and full member of the Portuguese Institute of Heraldic.
The hardcover book is immensely beautiful and outstanding, an easy read with absolutely fantastic coloured and black-and-white photographs that takes us to a different Lisbon, from that of nowadays, telling us all about the iconic Pastelaria Benard, which history now spans a century and a half. You can purchase this book for 29.90€. Benard went through hard times in many epoques, a living witness to an area rich in events that brought together writers, revolutionaries, artists and spies, always inspiring them by the means of its locally produced confectionery. A house that was distinguished with the title Lojas com História and which, if you come to Lisbon, will be a mandatory stop in your itinerary.