PEOPLE OF EQ – Mark and Val

04 Feb 2020

Rio Barra

What is your role?
Owners of Rio Barra.

What were you doing before this?
“I was at the airport. I was a customer service manager. Completely different!” (Val)
“I was a business manager in the corporate world.” (Mark)

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
Yes, both.

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
“Spend time with the kids.”

They have a 17 year old daughter who is already helping out in the business and wants to be a nutritionist, and they have a 10 year old.

What is the happiest moment of your life?
“When we got married.”

They first met when they both worked at Grace Bros over 25 years ago and have started several businesses together. They attribute their successful partnership to mutual trust and respect, and finding the right work/life balance.

“Literally, we’ve gone for years spending every day with each other.”

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?
“It has to be a chicken wrap [from Rio Barra] with extra mayo, extra chilli!” (Val)

“I’d probably start with the sweet potato salad and then make like a foot long scotch fillet roll with everything on it.” (Mark)

A bit more…
Val’s Portuguese dad worked with the Oporto franchise at one time, and he learned about the food industry and chilli sauce – information he later imparted to his daughter.
Just over 10 years ago, Val and Mark opened Rio Barra in Sans Souci serving their distinctive wraps with sauces Val had created. It was an immediate success and they were shortly afterwards invited to have a stall at the EQ markets.

“In 2009 we started at the markets here, and we were a little tiny stall, we just had sauces and brownies and that was it,” says Val.
“In around 2011 we were approached to start cooking. So we were just doing burgers, wraps, three salads, that was it. And then what happened was the Sydney Swans’  Adam Goodes (Goodsey) came to us and wanted a chicken wrap. And he said ‘can I have more chicken?’ and I said ‘no problem.’ Next week we had a sea of red!”

Goodsey had gone back singing the praises of his wrap and the following week everyone in the Swans team wanted one.

From then on, things kept spiraling upwards.

Goodsey became a regular customer. One day, a friend made a casual suggestion: “Adam, why don’t you have a photo with Val and we can call it the Goodsey wrap?” He did. The Swans wrote about it on their website and fans queued for miles wanting a Goodsey Wrap. That photo now hangs like a trophy on their shop wall.

The popularity of the wraps led to the Swans team asking her to cater lunch for them. Word got around and pretty soon Val and Mark were feeding the Waratahs, Rugby Sevens, Manly football team…

“One nutritionist would talk to the next and then all of a sudden, we’re doing the Rabbitohs, we’re doing St George, we’re doing the Bulldogs, doing Cricket NSW, GWS, Cronulla Sharkies.”

So why is their food so popular with sports nutritionists? 

“Because our food is a complete package. For example, our Recovery Wrap has 210g of chicken in it; it has sweet potato coated in turmeric; quinoa and mixed lettuce. So for the players it’s a perfect scenario after match for them to fuel up within the 30 minutes coming off the field. And that’s really important.”

The business had grown exponentially and they still only had the pop-up at the markets. The shop in Sans Souci had become an industrial kitchen for large scale orders. Eventually a shop site became available within EQ and it only increased their popularity.

When the 150 squad American NFL teams toured they called on Val and Mark to feed them.

Amazingly, Rio Barra  doesn’t do any promotion. So how do people know about them?

“By word of mouth, would you believe? We don’t have a website, we don’t advertise…it’s just having the right connections – and good food!”

Their expanded menu now includes 11 different salads with protein on top. It’s mostly Portuguese based food but they also try and cater for all dietary needs. They don’t do dessert, but they do make protein balls and muesli bars.

“We also do fresh food, so we also do the Portuguese style chicken in Cryovac bags. So people take them home, open the bags and they cook them themselves.”

Val has some clients for whom she prepares special orders, including a lady in Palm Beach whose fridge gets stocked each Christmas with pre-seasoned, ready-to-cook ribs, fillet, chicken.

And the future?

“We love being in EQ. We can see a lot of potential in this place, we really can.” (Val)
“It’s got a really nice outlook.” (Mark)

Rio Barra is open 10am – 3pm Monday – Friday in store and 8am – 2pm Saturdays inside the markets.