A vegetarian restaurant for non-vegetarians

A VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT FOR NON-VEGETARIANS. An interpretation of Teresa Carles restaurant

What is a vegetarian restaurant doing ranking 24th out of 4,600 Tripadvisor restaurants in Barcelona?

If we focus on what is praised as a key element in traditional retailing: “Location, location, location”, Teresa Carles falls short – its location is along a small street, not obvious to passersby.

Its history

Like many other successful businesses, Teresa Carles began in a modest way in 1979. Not in a garage (the City Council wouldn’t give them the zoning permission), but in a narrow street in the old town in Lleida. It is a family company founded by Teresa Carles, the heart and soul of the kitchen, and Ramon Barri, her husband. The original restaurant name was “Paradís” ( or “Paradise” in English) and it was transformed in a Spanish leader of this kind of cuisine.

When the Lleida market was addressed, they decided to carefully expand and in 2006 they opened “Baobab” restaurant in Zaragoza, which was another success.

In 2010, Jordi and Mar, the founders’ children, joined the family enterprise to boost its business capabilities. Mar runs administration, while Jordi, with both a financial and vocational marketing background, runs the company externally. He continuously looks for ways to evolve the business, paying attention to the recent scientific discoveries and social trends.

With Jordi and Mar on board, in March 2011 – in the middle of Spanish economic crisis – they opened their third and largest restaurant in Barcelona. This time with the name of their chef above the door, Teresa Carles. The restaurant serves between 8,000-10,000 dinners monthly – 75% of them to women who come not only from the city, but from all over the world.

Customer segments are vary greatly. Among local customers there are two sub-segments: the office people that dine for workday lunch, and people that go to Teresa Carles to enjoy a different gastronomic experience. The restaurant also has a very prominent segment of tourists. One of the unique characteristics of the Teresa Carles experience is to hear a the many languages spoken amongst the international customers.

As the line-ups continue to grow outside the restaurant, the company is opening a second restaurant in Barcelona.

The back-end matters

At the same time when Jordi and Mar joined the business, the company created the Feel Good Food, a central workshop where they make certain bases for their dishes (sauces, fillings, artisan pasta, bakery, etc.), located in Bellcaire d’Urgell.

These base ingredients for the recipes are sent to the three restaurants daily to be integrated into their kitchens. This way, the company can ensure the maximum continuity of quality and flavor of the recipes, which is traditionally often threatened by high kitchen staff turnover.

Teresa Carles, the chef

Teresa, well-educated in the art of traditional Catalan cuisine, always feels the need to be up-to-date with the most advanced vegetarian cuisine. In 1977, she traveled Europe and the United States to learn more about the different variations of this kind of this unique cuisine.

Teresa then set a goal of applying the vegetarian cuisine techniques to the traditional Catalan and Mediterranean dishes, using the best products to create recipes as tasty as her grandmother’s dishes, but more surprising and healthy.

Teresa is now a leading chef in Spanish vegetarian gastronomy. She not only expresses herself through her gastronomical creations, but also has shared them by writing cooking books such as “The Sky Kitchen, Vegetarian Recipes” (2003).

Teresa Carles’ Philosophy

Teresa Carles wants customers to enjoy tasting their dishes, and at the same time, take care of their health.

For her, the first thing she looks for when creating a dish is to surprise the diner with ingenuity and creativity. Secondly, she ensures dishes taste delicious. And all made with healthy ingredients.

In this way, Teresa Carles is a vegetarian that breaks preconceptions – it doesn’t preach or impose. People like it because of its surprise and creativity, not for flaunting any agenda.

With this particular approach, it’s no surprise that 95% of customers are not even vegetarian. An honest and genuine philosophy that doesn’t contradict the business.

The menu

The stars of the show are Teresa Carles’ dishes, with their menu adapted for breakfast, lunch and dinners. Like in fashion, the menu changes seasonally, twice a year, in favour of seasonal products that are fresher and tastier at that moment of time.

The menu takes into account all kinds of dietary preferences, indicating the dishes adapted to a vegan diet (abstinence from ingredients made of animal products) or a raw vegan (food not cooked in temperatures below 46 degrees). Not forgetting, of course, allergies or food intolerances, offering dishes suitable for celiacs or who are lactose intolerant.

Apart from the standard dishes on the menu, the restaurant offers the possibility of personalize your own salad choosing from a list of ingredients. For workday lunches, there is a changing menu with a fixed price.

Packaging the Product

These amazing dishes wouldn’t have the same taste without the appropriate packaging: the restaurant itself. Their interior design, done by Cesc Pons, in collaboration with Jordi Barri, brings a pleasant, stress-free, serene, cheerful and genuine mood.

The front of the building is an old majestic house. As soon as you enter, you find the cold slow cooking area where all the salads and fresh products are made. The vegetable colors and stylish interiors incite diners with an instantaneous appetite.

In front of the waiting area stands a display case with products created and ideated by Teresa Carles (jams, oils, wines, nuts, t-shirts, etc.) obviously with her own brand. All the products have a “godfather” that has been in charge of the idea-conception and making of the product.

Those who wrongly use the term “private label” could take a lesson in the possibilities of what a brand can sell directly to the public.
There are three dining rooms – one of them could be used for a private group function. Everything is taken care of, even the smallest details in order to avoid problems with air conditioning access, food smell, etc.

Teresa Carles, the brand

Jordi knows how to transform a great gastronomy restaurant in a brand able to sustain business development. The restaurant not only has their own branded products, but it is managed as a brand.

Nowadays, as customers increasingly use the internet before going to a restaurant, Teresa Carles have a website that not only reflects their design, values and philosophy, but also is very customer oriented. For example, the first thing that appears is the information that most of the people need: phone numbers, as the hours of operation and location. On other pages, the rest of the content is displayed.

From their website, you can also access to Spotify playlist that links to songs that can be heard in the restaurant. Many people may think that it is typical “vegetarian” music, but listen to it and you will see how it contributes to build the brand.

The menu is an iconic element. The explanation of each product is narrated in a very ingenious way. They know the power of storytelling.

Jordi is very aware of the importance of the social networks, such as Tripadvisor or Facebook, and he pays careful attention to it. The restaurant has a very active page where they share recipes, videos, and interesting information about vegetarianism.

The last bite

Let me share two learnings from this unique restaurant-brand:

The first is about the criteria to manage decision-making. When you work in Asia, you can see that many companies tend to balance and equate the criteria. They look to achieve a certain agreement between the criteria, which sometimes complicates clarity for decision-making.

By contrast, Teresa Carles doesn’t see the criteria as having the same importance, but has set up a hierarchy for them:

  1. Surprising.
  2. Organoleptic likability.
  3. And all the previous made taking care of health.

The second comes from the previous one.
If we have a “15 second elevator pitch” to explain what the Teresa Carles restaurant is about, we could say that it is a successful retailer because it has a great product, it’s surprising, and you can enjoy the food while eating healthy at a reasonable price.

But, to be honest, if I said that I would feel like an “old school” marketer. As we know that an overwhelming majority of decisions (for example, “What restaurant are we going?”) are made at a non-conscious level, I prefer to ask myself:

  • Teresa Carles, what do you mean to my life at this moment?

In response, I feel that you are giving me cheerful moments of creativity and gastronomical enjoyment, while I forget about the things that stress me.

When I review what I’ve written, I see that it is evident that Teresa Carles knows how to build a brand. They will go far.

Lluis Martinez-Ribes

Source: Código 84, nº 174.