PITTSBURGH – Fernando Raul DeCarvalho exemplifies the American Dream of immigrating to the United States, gaining citizenship, and owning his own business. DeCarvalho, who received his citizenship in February, praised the opportunity the U.S. has provided him and the help he received from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
According to John Shoraka, the SBA regional administrator who oversees the Pittsburgh area, DeCarvalho’s use of SBA programs is a step that entrepreneurs often overlook: “SBA was created to help small business owners start, grow and succeed and we’re proud to have played a role in helping Fernando achieve his goals,” Shoraka said. “He truly understands his customers and the sandwich market, so SBA was able to assist him in acquiring capital that enabled him to expand. His business plan can now serve as a business menu for his three business locations.”
DeCarvalho’s success as an Allison Park resident and entrepreneur who owns two downtown sandwich shops, a doughnut franchise and his own home, belies the struggles he faced to survive in Pittsburgh – where he once readied to spend the night under a bridge with all of his belongings in a sack.
“In Brazil, a 19-year-old kid with no money could not open a business. Because of the SBA and the people who believed in me, I had the freedom for opportunity,” he said emphatically.
DeCarvalho also has been waiting for the chance to speak his voice by voting in an election as a new U.S. citizen and plans to do just that in the Pennsylvania Primary on May 17. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” he said.
“I came to Pittsburgh from Brazil when I was 15 to stay with my aunt to learn English,” DeCarvalho explained. “In a year and a half, she went home and I found myself under a bridge with all of my stuff. I contacted a Bosnian refugee family and they took me in until I was 18 and could rent my own apartment.”
For years DeCarvalho worked at local eateries, honing his managerial skills and saving his earnings. When a sandwich shop in downtown Pittsburgh went on the market, he made an offer.
“I had $5,000 saved, but worked a second job at an outlet store where the owner believed in me and lent me the additional $15,000 needed to purchase the shop,” he said. “I paid the loan back in only four months.”
But 11 months later, he found himself out of business when the building was put up for sale. But he persevered, finding yet another downtown location and financier to help him establish his restaurant.
“I was only 19, with no car and no deposit money, but the landlord saw my passion and gave me the opportunity,” he said. DeCarvalho sold some of the shop’s equipment to generate operating funds, but two years later he was once again out of customers and business.
“It was a franchise and I was about to sign the sales agreement when I decided to turn it into my own place and call it Fernando’s,” he explained. “I changed the name, the menu and painted it. I researched sandwich shops to differentiate my product and offer a diverse menu.”
Two years ago, when DeCarvalho decided to expand his shop to PPG Place, he utilized the SBA for financing and assistance with a business plan.
“I went to the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center and they helped me write a business plan,” he said. “It took about three months and I did that while working full-time. It was very stressful for me, because some people are made for details and others are made to wait on people.”
“I try to offer value and service to my clients,” DeCarvalho said. “I put the customer first. They like knowing the shop is run by someone who cares.”
Note: If you would like to speak with Fernando Raul DeCarvalho, John Shoraka, SBA regional administrator, or Carl Knoblock, Western Pennsylvania SBA district director, please contact Janet Heyl at 412-395-6560, ext. 103
The U.S. Small Business Administration – helping small businesses start, grow and succeed.