From a start as an immigrant baker in East Boston, Deo Braga has risen to one of Gloucester's leading business owners, with coffee shops, gas stations, a restaurant, real estate, commercial and personal holdings worth an estimated $20 million, with more on the whiteboard.
This year, as he celebrates his 50th birthday, his first grandchild, and his 30th year since leaving the Azores, the Portuguese islands, Braga could rest and enjoy his accomplishments.
No matter that he's robust, with a handsome head of dark, wavy hair, smiley blue eyes and an easy grin, Braga says he feels like time is going too fast since he hit the half-century mark. "There's no golf, no bowling. I work seven days a week."
"I still work the doughnuts," Braga said of the seven Dunkin Donut franchises he owns on Cape Ann. His wife, Paula, "is next door right now," in the coffee shop, he added, from his office on Washington Street near the railroad crossing. "She's a tough cookie. She loves working."
Braga plans to open an eighth Dunkin Donuts here within a year, not specifying location. Once his gas station at Washington and Prospect streets re-opens in August after renovations are completed, Braga said he will close the one on Washington and Railroad Avenue near the MBTA depot.
"Say goodbye to the ugly building and the red canopy," he said, and hello to a new extension of the Azorean Restaurent for small functions and private parties. "It will be beautiful," he promised.
"I was going to build a deli there, with Portuguese foods," he said, acknowledging scuttlebutt around town, "but a few days before I turned 50, I said to myself, do I need another headache? Do I want to start another business from scratch?
"No, I told myself. I want quality, good service. I don't want to be spread too thin," he said, defining the primal peril for entrepreneurs.
In his 30 years in business, Deodato ("Deo") Braga has made well-defined strategic moves. Remember Freddy the Baker: "Time to Make the Donuts"? Meet Deo the Baker: "Time to Make the Dough."
In 1981, age 20, he left his home in the Azorean town of Vila Franca Do Campo to settle in Massachusetts, a place already familiar to his family. "My father was in Cambridge," he said. "It was kind of a village tradition to come to Massachusetts. One of the first Dunkin Donut franchises was to a Portuguese guy from my village in the 1970s."
That entrepreneur, Manuel Anbrade, "started as a baker in New Bedford, made a little money, bought a store and hired friends from home," said Braga. "He was the pioneer of the Portuguese getting Dunkin Donuts franchises here."
Braga cut and baked doughnuts in East Boston for a year, then moved to work for another family friend, who owned franchises in Vermont. He said he loved Vermont — "that's where I learned the real American way: You live from what you earn, no handouts" — but by 1988 sought to have his own franchise.
That became the Dunkin on Gloucester's Main Street. "Then there was one after another," he said. "This is a beautiful place, nice people. Gloucester is like a big family."
That said, Braga admits he will never be a "Gloucesterite. I live here, almost all my kids were born here, but I consider myself an Azorean. I'm a U.S. citizen but always an immigrant. It's the same when I go to Portugal," he said, grinning. "I'm considered an outsider there, too."
The Portuguese and Portuguese-American population of Gloucester has dwindled to about 200 families, Braga estimates. New Census figures are unavailable.
In the late 1800s, the famed fleet of schooners called "Gloucestermen" were manned by Azoreans, according to city archives.
A hundred years ago, descendants of the whaling crewmen brought to the port cities of Massachusetts from the Azores beginning in the early 1800s numbered about 100,000, with many of those in Gloucester.
The second wave of Azoreans who came to Gloucester in the late 1800s and early 1900s sought work in commercial or industrial plants. Many were employed by Gorton's. They settled in what is known as Portuguese Hill (Perkins, Mount Vernon and Friend streets, etc.) and, in 1889, established the Catholic parish of Our Lady of Good Voyage with its storied statue of the Virgin Mary cradling a two-masted "Gloucesterman."
Another wave came in the 1970s, like Braga, with entrepreneurial instincts. Dunkin Donuts beckoned.
Founded in 1950 on the South Shore by Bill Rosenberg (whose photo with Braga is on his office wall), the coffee and baked goods shop quickly proved to be one of the most sought and most lucrative franchises in the country.
Today, as the $5 billion, Canton-based company plans to make a public stock offering, its core markets are still in New England and New York. Cape Ann has twice — almost thrice — the number of DDs per capita than the regional average.
A new Dunkin Donut franchisee, who must buy or expand to have a minimum of five shops, must have a net worth of $1.5 million and $750,000 cash reserve, with start-up costs running about another $500,000.
"I respect the people of Gloucester and Rockport and Manchester," said Braga, who employs about 150 people. "I want to please them. I know the pink and orange building throws off some, but I am a franchisee. I can't change it, but I keep it clean. I want to run the best places I can, with the best service and with reasonable prices."
Corporate sets a minimum and maximum price a franchisee can charge. Braga is "in the middle."
Braga said his gas stations are the least expensive in town (for cash payment), even though all dealers pay the same price for the gas and Braga has small tanks, so his overhead is higher than others.
Braga, who also owns the land and parking lot where Manchester Athletic Club is near the railroad station, said he hopes Gloucester will be open to adding more nightspots ("no disco balls, but quality entertainment for people in their 30s, 40s 50s").
"People should be allowed to invest in the city, not be blocked," he said. "A lot of people want to invest here, quality investment. We should have hotels. There's no room to stay."
Braga said he approves the relaxation of the rules on waterfront land use "because it helps all of Gloucester."
With his wife of 30 years, Paula, who came to Fall River from Portugal, he designed and opened their Azorean Restaurant in 2005 despite no formal experience in the risky full-service restaurant business, but "a lot with customer service" said Braga.
Appositively, he noted, the Azorean, which replaced the derelict Depot Café©, has already been painted three times. "You should put money into upkeep, for the benefit of the business and the neighborhood."
Bob Stewart, chairman of the city Zoning Board Of Appeals, said Braga has been before him numerous times and "the only problem I ever had with him, and I told him, was that Dunkin Donuts stopped serving the crullers. The next time he came before us, I thanked him for resurrecting something similar.
"You have to have to a sense of humor to be on this board," said Stewart, who has done so for about 20 years.
The Bragas' eldest son, Cliff, 28, graduated from Bentley College and works with his wife's family business: Dunkin Donuts in Newburyport. Dominick, 21, works with Deo, and Bianca, 20, attends North Shore Community College. Family photos adorn the walls of Braga's office in the Braga Management building on Washington Street.
Befitting a multi-generational family business, Braga's spacious quarters in the front of the building contains traditional furnishings with a spectacular mahogany desk, cabinets and millwork. The lunchroom in the back of the building is crammed with baby equipment for visits from Cliff's infant daughter, Sabrina.
But the most telling decoration may be the photos hanging on the conference room wall.
Braga's heroes: Elvis, Al Pacino, Bruce Lee and a fierce looking wolf, labeled "Risk Taker."
Correspondent Nancy Gaines is a veteran reporter and editor of national and Boston publications. She lives in Bay View and is trying to be a constant gardener.