Spanish tapas and pintxos are venturing abroad. Sky is the limit!
Spanish pintxos made with grilled shrimps and bacon. Photo by: Fernando Madariaga/©ICEX.
Author: Marta Fernández Guadaño/©ICEX
According to Ferran Adrià, it's the most exportable "made in Spain" gastronomic format. Restaurant chains and chefs alike are promoting tapas bars abroad and generating synergy for food companies to find ways of raising their sales figures.
"Our dream is to promote contemporary tapas as a way of raising the international profile of Spanish food". This is how chef Ferran Adrià sees it, and he should know. His restaurant elBulli (Cala Montjoi, Catalonia) revolutionized gourmet food all over the world and revived the image of tapas as the paradigm of Spanish cuisine. "Tapas are a way of understanding life; they represent our country's culture. That's why they are the most exportable Spanish food concept", argues Adrià, who closed elBulli as a restaurant on 30 July 2011 and plans to reopen the venue in 2014 as a foundation focusing on creativity.
In his "new" life, one of the chef's tasks is to be the public face of Turespaña, body that, together with the Damm brewery company and the Alicia Foundation promoted by Adrià and focused on food research, has set up a project to study how tapas have developed through the years, how they have been given a contemporary twist and their value as a business format for exporting the Made in Spain brand of gourmet food. "The project is open to all Spanish food and distribution companies that may benefit from breaking into new markets on the back of the international tapas boom" says Adrià.
According to his calculations, there could be 100,000 new tapas bars opening across the world, with positive knock-on effects for Spanish food companies' sales figures. "It's not just about selling tapas in other countries, it's a question of using them as a channel for chefs, food companies and restaurants to launch their businesses outside Spain" argues the Catalan chef. "If 100,000 tapas bars are opened abroad, how many bottles of olive oil or kilos of ham could be sold?".
One of the many business concepts linked to tapas is Tickets, the venue conceived by brothers Albert and Ferran Adrià in partnership with the Iglesias family (owners of Rías de Galicia restaurant in Barcelona). Tickets, located on Barcelona's Avinguda del Para•lel, started trading in January 2010. "This would be a great format for taking abroad" believes Ferran Adrià. For the time being, although they have been approached by several investors from other countries, it looks likely that caution will prevail in any plans for launching Tickets at international level, possibly as a franchise. "My challenge is not to do anything crazy" adds Albert Adrià.
The case of Lizarran
Turespaña and Damm are attempting to pinpoint the international business potential of tapas. Lizarran is one of the Catalan brewery's most loyal customers. This chain of pinchos bars, owned by the Comess Group has been immersed in an international expansion plan based on the franchise model (which it also uses in Spain). To open establishments abroad, "Lizarran decided to use the tapas rather than the pincho concept, which is what we use in Spain", explains Gonzalo Juliani, Director of Expansion for the brand. "Tapas is a tremendously powerful concept beyond our borders and has massive export capability" he adds.
Using this approach, the chain is adapting the tapas concept on a local scale. "We adapt to each individual market while preserving our distinctive character, but we can reinvent our concept if we need to" says Juliani. This has led to some interesting things happening: in China, bread was eliminated from the pincho format, as the Chinese eat hardly any bread, and tapas are presented on a designer spoon; in Casablanca, where the chain is due to open in 2012, the menu is being rewritten for religious reasons. Lizarran is already generating between 10% and 15% of its annual turnover from its overseas business.
When it comes to choosing countries to grow the business, the overriding issue is the solvency of potential Master Franchises, which not only benefit from using the Lizarran brand, they also get the know-how they need to set up a franchising system in their own country. "With their position at the center, the master franchisee is like a branch office for us", explains Juliani. Lizarran's international growth took off in Portugal in 2001, followed by the south of France. Five years ago the chain opened for business on the west coast of the United States, before moving on to Russia, where it opened two venues in Moscow, and China. By 2010 the chain had also reached New York and Miami. "For 2012, we plan to 'jump aboard' South America, in countries such as Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina, and Europe, probably in Italy and The Netherlands" he says.
Another Spanish chain involved in taking the tapas and pinchos concept abroad is Grupo Sagardi, a restaurant company specializing in traditional Basque food and founded in 1996 by chef Iñaki Lz. de Viñaspre. At the moment, it has 19 establishments, three of which are based overseas: Buenos Aires Andorra and Santiago de Chile. The last one is the result of an alliance set up last November between Sagardi and Bodegas Torres Chile, a subsidiary of the Miguel Torres winemaking group. Under the name of Miguel Torres Restaurante de Vinos, the restaurant will be combining a pinchos bar area with a menu featuring traditional rice dishes and stews.
To progress outside Spain, Sagardi doesn't rely on franchises or licensing, preferring joint ventures with local investors. Sagardi acts as the industrial partner, setting up a company in each country, providing the trademark, the know-how and overall project management. This joint management also includes choosing suppliers, and the group tries to use Spanish firms. "When we expand abroad, we look for local partners so we can get a foothold in the country, but we stay in overall control so we can guarantee the authenticity and quality of the food served" explains Lz. de Viñaspre. Grupo Sagardi currently has plans to open pinchos bars in New York and Mexico, plus in European cities such as Oporto, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.
Besides plans drawn up by the major chains, tapas can also provide a route overseas for Spanish chefs keen to open their own venues outside their native country. The pioneer in this strategy was Asturias-born chef, José Andrés, who emigrated to the United States and became one of the best ambassadors for Spanish tapas with places like Jaleo and The Bazaar by José Andrés. "Since arriving in the USA in 1993, I've known that tapas were the best way of conveying the idea of what Spanish food is all about" remembers the chef.
All José Andrés's restaurants operate through the Think Food Group, owned by him and based in Washington, with a common purchasing policy applied across the entire company. Made in Spain is the title of a television series and a collection of DVDs and books in which the chef actively publicizes the use of products such as olive oil, cheeses, wines, citrus fruits, Piquillo peppers and Pimentón de La Vera (Spanish ground red pepper), as well as other Spanish ingredients. Conservas Artesanas El Navarrico and Pimentón La Chinata are just two of the brands that work with José Andrés.
Dani García is set to be the next well-known Spanish chef to land in the United States, with a New York branch of Lamoraga, his chain of tapas bars, due to open in autumn of this year. "It'll be a tapas bar, maybe with a few dishes from Calima" (his flagship venue in Marbella, Málaga), says the Andalusian-born chef, current holder of two Michelin stars. At the moment, Lamoraga has seven establishments in Spain, with 120 employees and space for 550 customers.
García plans to break into countries such as Morocco, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates. "We'll be prioritizing the use of products from Spanish suppliers" remarks García, who expects the average price of a meal at Lamoraga in New York, which will be working with local partners, being around 50-60 dollars. Last year, García visited China with his colleague Paco Roncero to promote Spanish cuisine for Turespaña; he is one of four chefs (together with Ramon Freixa, Toño Pérez and Roncero) advising Spanish airline Iberia on the design of their Business Class menus. "The idea is to have simple dishes and serve Spanish products, like a good ham or some preserves" says García.
In the meantime, Michelin-starred twins Sergio and Javier Torres, from Dos Cielos in Barcelona, run the Eñe tapas bars in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, alongside a Spanish partner based in Brazil and supported by a mixture of local and Spanish suppliers. Barcelona-born chef Frank Camorra took Australia by storm with MoVida, a Spanish tapas concept.
Marta Fernández Guadaño is specialist food journalist and creator of www.gastroeconomy.com.