When it comes to fast food, pink slime nuggets and American cheese are more likely candidates than Serrano ham and Manchego. But for the exponentially expanding fast casual 100 Montaditos chain -- high-quality products and local job creation are top of mind.
The Spanish chain, which made its way to America (and Midtown Miami, in particular) in 2010, now has ten local outposts - and a whopping eight more planned to open in the area by next year.
We sat down at their new Brickell location with CEO of the Americas, Juan Gervas and chatted him up about product sourcing, menu changes and the wildly popular Dollarmania. (Which, by the way, will be around for the long haul.)
Short Order: How did 100 Montaditos get started?
Juan Gervas: It was established 12 years ago in the south of Spain, a very small restaurant, only 200 square feet, but it had some terrace space. Now in Spain we have around 300 restaurants and we stared the international development of the brand. We started in the U.S. in Miami close to two years ago, and we also have the opportunity to start operations in Mexico and Colombia.
Is your plan world domination?
Were these style of sandwiches already popular in Spain?
Well in Spain what we normally have is what we call the tapas, it's just a piece of bread and you put something on it. So we developed the montadito, which is a small piece of sandwich bread like the French baguette, where we put the ingredients inside. With our bread the good thing is that it is fresh and it is baked to order in our restaurants. Most of our ingredients have some influence of our Spanish cuisine, but we also use some of the ingredients that are popular in every place. For instance in the U.S. we have the hot dog and the pulled pork that is very popular.
Who handles menu development?
We have a chef in house (Silvia de Antonio) and she's in charge of the development of the menu and all the ingredients. Obviously she is a professional chef and shes been working as a professional chef in the U.S. for a couple of years, although she was born in Spain so she has the good thing of the two worlds. She knows the culture, she also knows our traditions very well and the way we use the cooking and ingredients in Spain, so she tries to do the best mixture she can. The menu is always the same in all places by country. We have some that are for the tasting of the country, for example, in Mexico we have the montadito al pastor, which is normally ingredients they use in tacos.
Do you take customer suggestions as far as new ideas?
You can do that by our social media. We receive a lot of messages through Facebook and Twitter and obviously when we get any suggestion we pass that to the chef and she makes some trials. We do at least one trial every two months in our kitchen where we try to introduce new changes to the menu and in most of the cases when we have suggestions from clients we try those suggestions. In Spain because we've been in operation for so long, one of the resources we have is that we make a contest every year with out clients. We select ten to come to our central kitchen and they create a montadito and the one that is the winner is incorporated in our menu.
Where are you headed next?
In Miami I think the forecast is that we have under construction around 8 more units that should be open before the summer of 2013. We have a couple under construction in Broward, Weston in Pembroke Pines and other locations. We are working on more in Orlando. We just opened in Orlando a month ago and we are working on more locations there. We have also moved forward to start selling our product outside of Florida. We're opening in Washington, DC in March, we have already signed for the opening of 16 locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
How did Dollarmania come about? And please tell me it's not going anywhere ...
That was established in 2008 in Spain. In the beginning of the 90s, big fast food chains mainly the American ones, came to Spain with pizza, burgers. We also had in Spain really the growing experience of some Chinese retail shops where they sold everything at 100 pesetas (our currency before the Euro). They were very very popular in the country because they had everything in the store at 100 pesetas and the reason they used that price is because it was one of the smaller coins you could have in our currency.
In 2008 the crisis started in the whole world but also in Spain. We already had a couple promotions that were close to one Euro but we decided to put things in perspective for our customers that were starting to suffer from the crisis. We thought, why don't we have one day in all of our stores in the whole country when we put all of our menu to one Euro? And that was more or less the story. Also in Mexico on Wednesdays, everything is 15 pesos, and in Colombia it's 1000 pesos.
Do you source any of your food locally?
We try to buy most of our food locally, that's the reason we have the big chain supply department based here in Miami and we have our chef. The responsibility of our chef is to find locally the ingredients that have the exact taste that we need to have for the product mix of every montadito. Obviously Manchego cheese comes from Spain. I can give you a clue, we have already found a Manchego cheese that is made in Missouri. We're helping them with the recipe so we can have Manchego cheese made in the U.S. for U.S. stores. In two or three menu changes the Manchego in Manhattan stores will be from Missouri, with a Spanish recipe.
Do you have any plans to introduce vegan options?
We have thought about that and actually we are working on a new menu that will be really surprising but it's sort of a secret. We will tell you when it's the right time, but we're working on all that. That's been part of the brand from the beginning and we knew that the challenge of having 100 different was not just thinking of different ingredients to have 100, but also that you need to change that with the times to be oriented to the taste of our customers - what they like to taste and change every time. This is the fourth time we're changing the menu in the U.S. and we've been open only two years.
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Some of our products are organic, but we also understand that the trend right now is that people want to see that what they are getting is organic so we are also working on that line too, also a line of the rolls with ingredients that are organic. And actually the ham you are getting here is the most organic thing you can get in the world. This is free range pig and the way these pigs are grown in Spain they are free in the countryside and they just eat acorns. They are really rare and well preserved and the quality standards are the highest you can find in food.
You can check out 100 Montaditos and their many promotions on their website.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.