Culinary Action Barcelona, case studies of 7 entrepreneur chefs and outlook from 3 experts
On Monday 23 March 2015, the Basque Culinary Center held a workshop on analysing entrepreneur chef / restaurant owner success stories, featuring 7 chefs: Mateu Casañas, Paco Pérez, Fina Puigdevall, Óscar Manresa, Carles Tejedor, Toni Romero and Enrique Valentí. The programme was completed with three topic-based workshops running group dynamics, led by experts in entrepreneurship and restaurant management, on Social Networks in the restaurant business, Marketing in restaurants and Economic management/profitability.
10 CONCLUSIONS: 10 IDEAS TO CONSIDER WHEN STARTING A GASTRO-BUSINESS
1. Possible secrets to success: passion, implying that entrepreneurs work on something they love, combined with enthusiasm, consistency, effort and regularity.
2. Avoid being a dictator, individualist, thinking you can do everything on your own: your team is vital.
3. If you come up with a great concept but you don't have the right work tools, you've no chance of success.
4. Location, location, location. Keys to success
5. Design an offer to suit as many people as possible; and to do that, you have to consider your market and your environment; but, at the same time, you can't please all the people all of the time.
6. Seek authenticity in your business concept, related to customers and the offer design. In any case, ideas have to go hand in hand with conceptualisation.
7. There's nothing wrong with working for someone else; not everyone has to be an entrepreneur; but for anyone who fancies it, great chefs say that you should not be afraid to do things differently.
8. Standardising, implementing systems, is key; if a business is not systematized, it won't work.
9. It seems that gastronomy is only high or low but this isn't true: it is good or bad.
10. And remember... in the restaurant business, we are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen as Cesar Ritz once said.
THE MESSAGES FROM CULINARY ACTION! BARCELONA
JOXÉ MARI AIZEGA
Director of Basque Culinary Center
CHEF-SPEAKERS AND EXPERTS
- “It seems fundamental to us to promote entrepreneurship and so, the session aims to bring together entrepreneurs or people who are keen to set up their own business. There are many opportunities and as a centre dedicated to innovation and exploiting all the power of gastronomy, we are setting up Culinary Action!”.
- “These talks intend to be small TED talks on gastro-entrepreneurship”
After years as chef de cuisine at elBulli and afterwards, as members of Ferran Adrià's team in elBullifoundation, Mateu Casañas and his colleagues Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch took the plunge to become businessmen by opening Compartir, in Cadaqués (in April 2012), taking on the challenge of ‘democratising’ El Bulli's cooking with a menu formula. In December 2014, they inaugurated their second space, Disfrutar, located in Barcelona, backing a cutting edge, haute cuisine formula with two tasting menu options
- “One of elBulli's handicaps was time. We never had any actual time to work on other things." When they decided to close elBulli in 2011, "we were given the chance to open a business and get it out of our system; we had a duty to attempt our own business experience. At least try”.
- Compartir (Cadaqués)
- “We were very pragmatic and cautious. We opened a restaurant with a 14 square metre kitchen and second hand equipment and that was all we had to get on with it”.
- “What we were looking for with Compartir: we wanted to reach out to as many people as possible. So both families and couples might feel at home there, and we decided that our concept would involve sharing food in the centre of the table, trying to personalise how we worked with customers.
- Disfrutar (Barcelona)
- “After Compartir, we decided to open Disfrutar in Barcelona in August 2013. This would give us a more stable company all year round. In 2014, we set up a small management office in Roses for the labour, fiscal aspects, etc. employing someone part time. This was a trial run at administration before opening Disfrutar”.
- “The tasting menu is a risk from a gastronomic point of view because people cannot come and pick their meal. This didn't bother us because it's what we did at elBulli and from the business point of view, it's far easier to control. You control all the costs to be able to survive”.
- “In a business, you have to come up with an offer to suit as many people as possible, you have to take into account your market and your environment; but, at the same time, you can't please all the people all of the time. That's what we do, that's how we are; if customers don't want this format, they won't come back”.
- “The team is one of the most important points. We ask them not to be afraid of anything. We should praise everyone who puts their concerns to one side to throw themselves into their ideas. If you have clear ideas about this service philosophy, it is vital that they put it across as well”.
- “There's no problem in forming part of someone else's personal project as long as you believe in it; the time for going it alone with come”.
Chef, owner and administrator of several businesses in Barcelona, Girona and Berlin: owner of Miramar (two Michelin stars in Llançà, Girona); director/gastro-adviser at Enoteca (two Michelin stars in Barcelona) and The Mirror both in Barcelona) and Cinco by Paco Pérez, in the Hotel Das Stue (one Michelin star in Berlin); and partner and adviser for hamburger concepts at La Royale and for eggs at L’Eggs, in whose basement he designed and manages Doble, a snack, cocktail and music concept
- “With Miramar, we were able to make a dream come true thanks to all the projects that we've been working on since. If we don't provide other things, it is very difficult to maintain it”.
- “Entrepreneurs fail and failure is a virtue because you learn from it”.
- “What's important to set up a business? Firstly, the place; secondly the place; thirdly, the place. Location is fundamental”.
- “If you come up with a great concept but you don't have the right work tools, you've no chance of success”.
- “We like to bring happiness to the people who visit us and the people that are with us, because we are happy. We are delighted with what we do and where we are doing it and we'll carry on doing it all our lives and there you have the importance of the human team”.
- “Believe in what you do, love what you do and then you'll make a go of it”.
- “Not wanting to get ten out of ten but wanting a consistent seven is tricky. It means working day by day to improve what we do”.
- “The La Carletta 'frankfurter' food-truck is now working really well, so well that we are thinking about doing another food-truck selling fritters and fried fish. We'll also take La Carletta to the Jerez circuit and to Madrid”.
Twenty-five years ago, Fina Puigdevall opened Les Cols, in Olot (Girona), in her family homestead, along with her husband, Manuel Puigvert, who was in charge of front-of-house. Today, Les Cols is a restaurant with two Michelin stars, encompassing haute cuisine, an events business and a ‘prêt-à-porter’ concept, completed by a format dreamed up for the summer, located in the Tossols-Basil bathing pavilion. Their cooking style is governed by the radical choice to serve one hundred percent local cuisine.
- “I have been greatly influenced by the landscape around me, La Garrotxa”.
- “I was born in the house at Las Cols and so that makes me feel very comfortable”.
- “When I told my family that I wanted to set up a restaurant in the house, they didn't believe it”.
- “In our restaurant, we want people to come into contact with nature and for people to enjoy the space”.
- Alongside haute cuisine, “at Les Cols we offer a 'low cost' format on Thursday lunchtimes, with a 15 Euro menu that we serve to around 70 people; some Thursdays we serve more than a hundred”.
- At Les Cols, they barely serve fish (almost exclusively canned). “Now, we're off to the coast to act as consultants at the Hotel Mas de Torrent in the Empordà region”.
Responsible for Digital Marketing and events for the BCN 5.0 Group (Tickets, Pakta, Bodega 1900, Hoja Santa, Niño Viejo and the future Enigma)
Group dynamics: Social Networks
ROBERT J. LENSINK
- “Ideally, the person in charge of the social networks should be in-house because they have easy access to the daily ins and outs. If we outsource it, the fresh factor is lost”.
- “We have to be clear about our objectives, who we are targeting, the content to be put across and where we wish to put it across”.
- “We will use different tones, depending on what we wish to achieve; we will have to play with our words and how we form them”.
- “What is important in all communication is the human factor, so people don't feel like they're talking to a robot, that there's a person behind it." Answer all comments: good or bad. Thank people for any praise and answer criticism in a friendly tone. It is important that the customer feels you have listened to them”.
Group dynamics: Economic management/profitability
XAVIER DE LA MAZA
- “When I talk about the restaurant business, I'm talking about passion although this should be kept separate from the numbers. Firstly, deal with the numbers and then put all your passion into it”.
- “One thing I've learned from major projects revolves around the technical sheets; meaning the importance of having it all planned out, what is going into the dishes to be aware of very specific costs for each one”.
- “Looking for outside help for whatever your business can't do for itself at the time is fundamental (HR, production, etc.)”.
- “In a recession, we have to turn things on their head and look for variable options that surely exist such as variable rent depending on sales”.
- “You have to be on top of what's going on in other sectors such as retail, the world of fashion, etc. to copy it or transpose it into our sector”.
Entrepreneur at La Salsera, The Loaf, The Glutton Club and Pantori
Group dynamics: Marketing in restaurants
- “In order to carry off a project, you need to be surrounded by people. Avoid being a dictator, individualist, thinking you can do everything on your own. Your team is vital”.
- “People are good at things they obsess about because that'll be their passion; what they dedicate the most time to”.
- “Important advice: use a pilot format for our testing. So if we're going to lose money, the losses will only be moderate”.
- “When you are small, your marketing should revolve around the fact that the project is done well, that it has soul; in order words, do things properly”.
- “Don't just think outside the box, also think against the box”.
Óscar Manresa has been building up a group of several restaurants under different concepts that he designed and in which he is a partner: La Torre de Alta Mar, gastro-space with views of Barcelona's 'heavens'; the cocktail bar Rien de Rien (in Hotel El Palace); Casa Guinart, in La Boquería Market; the Kauai beach club’ and the Los Soprano pizzeria, both in Gavà; 99% Moto Bar (in Barcelona's Harley Davidson store); and Perfecto, in Miami, as an internationalisation project. This restless 'gastro-businessman' features in the "50 success stories", a book published by the Executive and Administration School (EADA).
- “My group is called Food & Music, because I'm a chef, but I'm also a rocker; I've been partners with Loquillo in a bar”.
- “We are working on new projects in 2015, with three new concepts: Homage, charcuterie tasting with all the Joselito products in the context of Joselito Lab; Chip&Basic, a tavern concept that will begin with the name of Taberna Tio Carlos; and La Tapería de Gavà, a concept designed to cover the costs of Los Soprano, a project that didn't work out”.
- “Los Soprano is a case of business failure. It was a pizzeria that, in theory, had the best location in Gavà; we advertised and paid homage to Gandolffini with colleagues from the profession. It still didn't get going. Of the 600,000 Euro I invested, I still have to pay off 200,000. We'll be using these premises to open La Tapería de Gavà this year. On the other hand, Los Sporano moved to La Boqueria and has been a roaring success”.
- “You have to make decisions and when the business doesn't work, react quickly”.
After holding a Michelin star until a little more than a year and a half ago in Via Veneto (luxury restaurant in Barcelona owned by the Monje family where he worked for seven years), Carles Tejedor has become a businessman, adviser and designer of culinary concepts. On the one hand, he created the BY13 bar format, with premises in Barcelona that has been running for 15 months. On the other, he is developing his own research project around olive oil, by means of Oilmotion, with international derivatives (Oilab has headquarters in Barcelona and Beijing). Last October, he started up El Nacional, a gastro-multi-space in Barcelona, where Tejedor is the gastronomic director and creates offers for its different formats. This chef opened the first Spanish tapas bar in London, located in the Savoy Hotel, in 1999.
- “I've never worked for the money. My leisure time is spent cooking, learning, sharing and living. Business is NOT leisure and an entrepreneur has to realise that”.
- “When we set up a business, we have to be clear about what we want. If there is no system, there is neither leisure nor business. If we have a system, we will be able to turn it into a business; if not, it doesn't work”.
- “Thanks to my experience, I set up my business Oilmotion that, as well as focussing on my work on olive oil, is the company through which I develop all my businesses." Oilmotion led to OiLAB, a laboratory concept around oil, not only olive oil. "In China, it took me just two months to open a laboratory; in Barcelona (Tarrassa), a year and a half”.
- “We have formed an alliance with Javier de las Muelas to manage his Speakeasy and a second casual format. This is not "cobranding", it is joining forces to make the numbers work so he can do the cocktails and I can do the food”.
- “BY13 is the example of an enthusiasm concept, where leisure won over business. It worked and had proven success but not all the partners saw it." Last week, Carles Tejedor left the BY13 concept that "we hope to move although under another name, to somewhere else in the centre of Barcelona”.
- “It seems that gastronomy is only high or low but this isn't true: it is good or bad”.
- “Location is really important. You can have the best product but you have to know where it is going to be sold”.
- “Very often, someone who wishes to invest by contracting you doesn't want your name to come out, but for the concept to get results and be profitable”.
- “It is essential to seek an identity in the concepts and give it value”.
This young chef is at the helm of Suculent (opened in 2012) and La Taverna del Suculent (inaugurated in 2014), both premises located in the El Raval neighbourhood, in Barcelona, where he is partners with Carles Abellan and Javier Cotorruelo. Nominated for different chef of the year awards, Romero combines his role as chef, including designing dishes and menus, with the job of administrator and businessman of both spaces governed by cuisine with Catalan roots, open, in some cases, to globalized influences. He has been a partner in Suculent since 2013.
- “Suculent is based on dishes that have culture and we are seeking a relationship with the ingredients that we use”.
- “When you start a business, you have to have a strategy. Ours was based on: location (El Ravel is an emerging neighbourhood); regularity, basic in the restaurant business; knowing how to choose products; seasonality; proximity, what generates synergies between Suculent and La Taverna; humility, staff loyalty and practices such as preferring to shop on a day to day basis”.
- “At Suculent, we apply creativity not so much in techniques, but in concepts, dishes and flavours”.
- “Don't rush to open a business; it's best to get training first”
- “We'll be opening a new place called 4.5 on the Ronda de El Raval”.
Known in Barcelona's ‘gastro-sector’ as ‘El Madrileño’, Enrique Valentí has been living in Barcelona for many years working as a chef, restaurant manager and maître d'. After being a partner in Chez Cocó or Casa Paloma, he is now focusing on several projects that he channels through his ‘Algo se está cociendo’ signature (Cooking something up). The most recent is BarBas, located in the basement of Hotel H10 Metropolitan, right on the Rambla de Catalunya, defined as "typically Spanish food, done very well".
- “Years ago, I understood that being a chef was not all about chasing a Michelin star. Later, I spent time training in management, something I knew nothing about the first time around. Attempting to understand why I lost all my money has been useful to help me earn money for other people and avoid falling into ruin once again”.
- “Ideas have to go hand in hand with conceptualisation”.
- “I spend time conceptualising. What is that? Thinking like a customer, what do people want and using this reflection to conceptualise the space and make it credible. I try to help others make money”.
- “Doing something believable in an unbelievable place. Recovering the heart of the city is an absolute must. We're in a touristy area but we're targeting local consumers. It is important to recover these areas that are being taken over by major restaurant chains that don't offer anything”.
- “The difference lies in the tiny details: you don't have to invent anything, just stick to a theme (great beer or frying some chips). You have to seek out what makes you different”.
- “At Barbas, we are partly backing show cooking by putting a fryer at the entrance to the place like a chip van to fry chips on the spot. We fry 18 kg of chips a day, selling them at 1.50 Euro. We've not invented anything; but no one was doing it. We are showing customers that we've got nothing to hide, which gives us credibility”.
- “You have to try and identify your place's star product, put it across and sell it for all you're worth. At BarBas, this seems to be meatballs with cuttlefish, that Albert Adrià loved thereby making them our blessed meatballs. We have sold 7,500 portions in 6 months. We're looking at 10,000 in a year”.
- “It is clear that mono-theme places are my thing. I am ‘The Lord of the 10,000’. In a year, I sold 10,000 ‘steak tartar’ at Casa Paloma and 10,000 chickens at Chez Coco. The combo plate is about to hit the big time”.
- “What's more, at BarBas" we are trying to be a neighbourhood seafood place; we sell Dublin Bay prawns or shrimp at a piece rate. This makes it a 'low cost' product and it is sold more easily”
- Versatility: “Everything is changing; waiters are no longer waiters and chefs are no longer chefs”.
- “It is fundamental to seek out what makes us different that will help us to compete at all levels”.