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Travel scams

Former pickpocket scams tourists with new restaurant business in Lisbon

Unsuspecting customers pay €120 for a cod dish or €50 for a beer at establishment run by criminal

Correeiros Street in the center of Lisbon is known for its popular restaurants where the waiters go out into the street and drum up business by offering menus in half a dozen languages, with large photos and cheap prices. Correeiros has some good restaurants like João do Grão, where you can get an excellent cod for €9.90, and then there are others that charge €120 – if tourists aren’t paying attention.

Made in Correiros no longer appears on the restaurant awning.
Made in Correiros no longer appears on the restaurant awning.

For a year now, different consumer associations have been receiving complaints from customers about the Made in Correeiros restaurant for charging €120 euros for a simple cod dish and €250 for a seafood platter with containing clams, shrimp, squid, and mussels. There are a couple of other restaurants on the same street that have surprise prices, such as Obrigado Lisboa.

These restaurants’ practices are legal since the prices are on the menu, albeit hidden

The government authority that manages these issues (DECO) says that they cannot sanction these restaurants for overcharging. These restaurants’ practices are legal since the prices are on the menu, albeit hidden.

The scam always works the same way. The tourist looks at the menu and sees reasonable prices and relaxes. Then the waiter offers the daily specials, emphasizing their “freshness,” Tourists don’t realize their mistake until it’s time to pay. When they complain, mysteriously a menu appears that had those dishes listed with the prices they hadn’t seen before.

If DECO can’t do much, it seems that social media can. TripAdvisor and other websites warn others about the scam at the “worst restaurant in the world,” as one Made in Correerios customer puts it. While the Internet can move fast, it appears the owner of these restaurants can move even faster. He continually renames his restaurants or simply closes them.

Obrigado Lisboa also has surprise prices.
Obrigado Lisboa also has surprise prices.

Made in Correeiros used to be called Portugal no Prato. Obrigado Portugal used to be Rio Ceira, which was also slammed online. On the same street there are other restaurants with no name and a similar aesthetic — various pictures of the dishes on the street and visible prices seen in many languages. The bad reputation of Made in Correeiros in the media caused its name to disappear from its awning this week.

We asked a hairdresser across the street: “Isn’t that the Made in Correeiros restaurant? Did the name disappear?”

The woman smiled and shrugged. She didn’t want to talk about it. From time to time, rumors among waiters from different establishments can ruin a business and that can be contagious.

According to an investigation by the Observador newspaper, the man behind these restaurants that scam tourists is José Cardoso, or Xula, a former pickpocket in the Baixa neighborhood, the same place where he has several restaurants.

Xula, a former pickpocket, started a new more profitable business, a tourist restaurant scam 

Xula was a popular pickpocket in the 1990s, famous for the number of times he was arrested. He was charged in 40 cases but never convicted. According to the police, he lead a group of thieves who worked in the subway and on the famous tram 28 – the one most used by tourists. From 2009, with the increase in metro security, Xula focused solely on the tram. But in 2012, he found a bigger, more respectable source of income.

And since 2012, Xula has expanded his business to at least three restaurants, where besides charging €250 for a seafood platter, also charge anywhere from €15 to €50 for a beer, which people typically order without looking at the price.

The Lisbon authority has carried out health inspections in his establishments, but all have passed without any issues. Xula has always been clean with his businesses. However, tourists have started avoiding the popular Correeiros Street.

English version by Debora Almeida.

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