A lesson in overcoming in times of crisis.
Through a retrospective look at the opening of El Celler de Can Roca back in 1986, Joan Roca took us through the story of this now legendary restaurant and all of its associated businesses. It was a lesson in overcoming in times of crisis.
Over the past few days, we have witnessed real wonders in the kitchen: creativity, imagination, research...; alongside other simpler, more straightforward ideas. But none of them would last for long without considering the economic factor. Making a restaurant economically sustainable is the foundation for continuing to create, dream and evolve. The Roca brothers have become masters, not only of haute cuisine, but of facing up to crises through management, strategy and, above all, non-conformity.
There have been three crises in the history of these brothers from Girona. El Celler was established in a working-class neighbourhood of this city (its history is well known), small premises next to the family restaurant. It was a humble space and the brothers dreamt of “something better, like those dream places we saw in Michelin-starred restaurants”. The opportunity came with the purchase of Torre Can Sunyer, but then came the post-Olympic crisis that shattered the hopes of the Roca family. “We had no choice but to be patient”. To wait for the right moment to create that dreamed-of place, but, in the meantime, it was important to make that acquisition a success. Thus was born a venue for events, weddings and banquets. Lesson one: “the crisis taught us that gastronomic restaurants needed complementary businesses”.
Meanwhile, Joan and Josep decided to renovate the restaurant in which they had to continue. It was 1997, the year in which Jordi joined the kitchen, “the irreverent creativity of El Celler”. They improved the area where they continued to evolve technically and creatively - “the main area, the thing that kept everything going”- and in 2006 the events moved to a new venue, Mas Marroch, leaving the way clear for Celler de Can Roca to set up in Torre Can Sunyer. The dream was completed in 2007. We all know what happened in 2008. The Crisis, with a capital C, appeared. “The events side started to drop a lot and we had to rethink the model”. It was the right time to create La Masía (2010), “a place for creating, reflecting and from where we could set ourselves challenges that would allow us to grow”. It was a diversification strategy with an eye to the future, but the Roca brothers are the kind of people who do something for a reason - “we are practical” - and so they also dreamt up “a business model that allowed us to hit the streets and take advantage of the creativity generated by El Celler”. The result was Rocambolesc, a new concept of ice cream shop.
The Roca network was being created and extended with planning, with a well-thought-out strategy that allowed them to grow and “have a solid base”. The fruit of this planning was their decision to open Casa Cacao, a bean-to-bar with a shop selling chocolates and sweets, which the Roca family rounded off with a small hotel with 15 rooms: “a way of extending the hospitality of restaurants to accommodation”. As we were saying, they don't do something without a reason.
Here we are now, with a devastating health crisis and its economic consequences. And while some may think that the Roca brothers have already got everything nicely wrapped up, they have decided not to rest on their laurels but to apply whatever changes are necessary. This is certainly true of Mas Marroch, under the dome of which there is now a restaurant, Roca Mas Marroch, where you can look back at the creations enjoyed at El Celler de Can Roca from its inception to its third Michelin star. “It was going to be something just for the summer, but it has come to stay”, said Joan Roca about this idea. It proved to be a smart move with which to continue generating business and, most importantly, “to relocate all the staff we had on standby from other venues”. Casa Cacao also opened for online sales and the studies carried out over the years at La Masia on distillates - which were only made for the restaurant - will now be the basis for selling them to the public.
Haute cuisine using your head. Management with empathy. And “keeping the flame of passion alive for the job and people’s efforts, being generous with your time to the project and endeavour”. Roca also gave some pointers regarding the current crisis: “identify opportunities, be more efficient and be more welcoming to the public”. If I were you, I would listen to him.