How Coronavirus affects restaurants in Spain: “It’s like if you’re blindfolded, you don’t know what’s in front of you”
By Fabiola Gálvez
Coronavirus didn’t catch Luis Arévalo by surprise, executive chef and director of GAMAN restaurant, executive chef at GAÏO Saint-Tropez and gastronomic advisor to different restaurants. “The truth is that we saw it coming because from the first days of March it started to feel the drop. The Saturday before that we closed with 4 people when normally, on Friday or Saturday it’s full”, he says.
Similarly, he’s affected with the project of the French restaurant he worked on for 5 years, he was going to renovate the contract this year “but you see how France is, concurrently I was talking with a businessman from Greece and he had a proposal in Tenerife and everything has been up in the air. Not even to say we’ll take it up later”.
Joaquín Felipe Peira, executive chef and director of My Way Sky Bar restaurant and terrace, and partner of the catering project of San Ildefonso Market in Madrid, he was in a moment of transition, he was leaving My Way Sky to open 107 Atocha, in the hotel, “I’ve remained in no man’s land”, he says. “The closure was like that, an ERTE (temporary redundancy) for people, in My Way, and in San Ildefonso Market”.
On 14th March, Spain entered a state of alert because of coronavirus. Although from previous days, some measures started to be applied like closing schools or opting for teleworking and the country was already in a state of tension. That Friday, all restaurants closed to the public. Some, almost in silence, and others, announced their closure as a preventive measure in social networks.
The sensation that right now is living in the hospitality sector is truly an enigma. “I’ve talked to many colleagues from the most ‘top’ to the most modest, the discomfort is the same, all of us are with the uncertainty of what will happen. It’s like if you were blindfolded, you don’t know what’s in front of you”, Luis says.
“I belong to the board of directors of Eurotoques, this association is on a national level. From Joan Roca to Andoni, we think the same, each one is at their home, is a different story, because one can have 1 person in their staff and other can have 100, one can have a mortgage, and the other not, each restaurant, hotel, commerce is a whole world with a common denominator, that it is closed, and you don’t earn but the expense is fixed. It will all depend on how your personal situation has caught you, on the help you can receive to refinance. Time heals all wounds, and when you are psychologically prepared to eat, you can see it in a different way, there’s panic to leave home for sure, go to a restaurant and see your neighbour that had it”.
Spain is a country that lives off of tourism, therefore, from the gastronomic restoration. Ferrán Adrià, in an interview in “Al Rojo Vivo” (La Sexta), said that the sector will probably be the most economically punished. “Look how great is tourism, it was the economic engine of this country, in the years of crisis it was the driving force”.
Statistics show the closure of establishments ordered by the government, affects 314.311 establishments of the hospitality industry that employs 1,7 million people in Spain. In 2018, the sector generated 6,2% of the national GDP, according to the Spanish Hotel and Catering Yearbook published in 2019 and cited in the most recent study of “Impact of COVID-19 in the hospitality sector”, conducted by the cash and carry chain Makro.
In this last analysis, it also points out, that 9 out of 10 owners have closed, and as a measure to mitigate the situation and keep the business active, only 12% introduced delivery service as a new measure.
DELIVERY in Haute cuisine
In the case of the largest fast-food chains is easier, they have a structured business to deliver the orders with the appropriate packaging, especially pizzerias that have always been portable food, but delivery in haute cuisine doesn’t exist, it would have to adapt to the transport, maybe sacrificing its refinement in the preparation. A patch that will only give employment to cooks but aims to be “a restaurant of the near future”, says chef Joaquín Felipe.
“There are dishes that can’t be served like that, but, nevertheless, you can create a simpler menu so people who receive it at their home can still feel the essence of your cooking, also it’s accessible because you’re not paying for customer service, not for wine, I prepare it with the best quality, following the hygiene standards”, says Luis Arévalo.
If we talk about Michelin star restaurants, could you imagine the Celler de Can Roca providing delivery service? Luis says that it would be more complicated for them. “Those restaurants with 2 or 3 Michelin stars, work with tourism, the maximum number of customers are foreigners, and tourism, it is said that for at least 6 or 8 months, is going to be paralyzed around the world. They also will have to rethink everything until it goes back to normal”.
Other initiatives that are emerging to ease the situation is that chefs are becoming active on social networks, launching recipes. One surprise is to see that Ferrán Adrià, who has dedicated 8 years to gastronomic research with his foundation, is cooking again, every day at 11:30 he publishes simple recipes on his Twitter account.
In order to save restaurants, consumption bonds are being created. “That’s what eltenedor.com is doing, you buy now for an amount designated by the restaurant, that way, you help that restaurant to manage to have some liquidity, and then you can come to consume when they return”, Luis tells us.
Different associations in the hospitality sector, together with Makro, are demanding financial aid to the government “for # unopuntosiete millions of hospitality professionals for COVID-19”, in a petition signed on change.org. “We want to shout out that you are not alone, that there are many of us, that together we can and will do it”.
The Basque Culinary Center has created “Retocoronavirus”, a meeting point to inform, inspire, help and encourage the sector to face this unprecedented situation. Likewise, Eurotoques, a European community of chefs, has launched the website “Somos Euro Toques” so members and professionals in the sector can share their experience against the crisis.
“Empowering people is going to be necessary, what we can’t do is have everyone go down, someone will have to stand up, and say, hey, we’ll get out. Spain was for me, objectively, the best country in tourism in the world, and we will do it again”, says Ferrán Adrià.
COOKING IS ALSO SOLIDARITY
Last week, on the cover of Times Magazine in the United States, chef José Andrés became the symbol of the fight against coronavirus, who delivers food to those in need through his NGO World Central Kitchen. Now Spain has a campaign called #ChefsForSpain, and it seems that this has awakened the spirit of different local initiatives such as the one of Grosso Napolitano, a chain of pizzerias that began delivering pizzas to health workers, and which today other 90 companies have joined, giving birth to #Food4Heroes. They are working to deliver food to health personnel, in all hospitals in Madrid. And this has called to extend the movement with more restaurants in different provinces, such as Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, among others.