Tasteful complicities

The culinary offer around Carrer Sèneca raises the bar and generates synergies

The freezing cold that dawned in the city on Thursday did not deter the restaurateurs who were called together for this report in the pedestrianised section of Carrer Sèneca. The idea was to pose together for the photo taken by Mané Espinosa, and they were keen to give visibility to the boom in the area where they have their businesses, where the gastronomic offer is growing and raising the bar, according to them, with more of a desire to establish synergies than rivalries. As they arrived, most of them on bicycles, the owners of the antiques shop Antrazita (antique shops and design studios or craftsmen add that cosmopolitan touch that maintains this redoubt between Gràcia and Sant Gervasi) kindly offered the necessary props. ‘A little table, a bench, can we lend you chairs?

There was warmth in the air, despite the fact that some rubbed their icy hands together and a couple of them resigned themselves to taking off their parka ‘just for a moment’ to immortalise their work clothes: the apron. There were those who took advantage of the meeting to get a table at the competitor's place. ‘On the web I see that you are always full and there is no way’, joked the owner of Rafaelli with the owner of Berbena. The same wink was made by the oldest restaurateur in Sèneca, Joan Crosas, of Roig Robí, 41 years in a street that was not always so quiet, to Rafa Panatieri and Jorge Sastre, partners of the new Brabo, to whom he promised a visit soon: ‘Everyone speaks well of you and we still haven't been able to go’.

Crosas, son of the founder of what was one of the most emblematic restaurants of Olympic Barcelona, remembers the constant traffic jams when cars drove up Jardinets and turned at Sèneca to access Via Augusta. ‘When they made it pedestrianised, things changed completely’, he explained. Later, he would show us the plaque dedicated to Anne Frank or the subtle symbols of the half Star of David or the wheel representing the gypsy people, stamped on the pavement. It is a neighbourhood hymn to diversity and freedom as a reaction to the misfortune of having had to share the street with the Europa bookshop, a Nazi apologist, sealed by court order in 2016. ‘There was even a proposal to change the name of the street to Anne Frank, but there was no consensus’. There was also a time, he recalled, when the Teatre Regina, now with a children's programme, was the focus of attention and attracted a lot of people. ‘Tricicle premiered on its stage’.
The complicities between the restaurateurs of Sèneca extend to the surrounding area, which includes Calle Minerva, Calle Minerva and the surrounding area of the Teatre Regina.

Most of the restaurants buy the artisan products that they make in the area to the closest stretch of the Sant Miquel stream, where last year the owners of La Balmesina
last year the owners of La Balmesina opened their second pizzeria,Gina Balmesina, or where very recently the bar of the new Tangana, run by Josep Maria Masó and the former owner of La Balmesina, opened its second pizzeria, Gina Balmesina.
Josep Maria Masó and his former disciple, Àlex López; or on Carrer Antúnez, where the SlowMov cafés or the fresh pasta of Rafaelli Ristorante are located. And these complicities also include buying from those who make quality artisan products that are consumed in the nearby restaurants. This is the case of Paral-lelo's ice creams, which almost everyone offers, or the coffees of the aforementioned Slow-Mov. Matteo Reggio and his partners, Francesco Guerucci and Marco Giancaterino, who could not join Thursday's meeting, consider it a challenge to have opened in 2016 in such a quiet place as Sèneca.

‘Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, because we love the location, but an ice cream parlour requires a much busier street’, explains Reggio, who reveals that they are planning to open their second shop soon on Passeig Sant Joan and Ausiàs March. ‘Things are going well and, despite the location, the customers who know us appreciate what we do and come expressly. The proof of this is that we serve around 1,500 people a day and there are eight of us in the team, so that we can provide a flexible service’. Carmen Callizo, from SlowMov, also supplies coffee to all the neighbours and points out the harmony between the businesses in the neighbourhood. ‘It's strange because with Carles Pérez de Rozas, from Berbena, we realised that when we were little we went to the same nursery. Years later we were both out of the country training and working, but when it comes to entrepreneurship we have returned to the same place and we are neighbours again. I think there is a certain generational movement in what we are experiencing", explains this expert in speciality coffees who runs the business with her partner, François Fecamp. With a focus on selection at origin and proper roasting, the coffees they sell are praised by all those who appear in this report. For Callizo, this relationship between houses that do not see each other as competition has generated ‘a complicity born of a context and a moment’.
Some who were born in the neighbourhood have returned to start their own businesses after training abroad.

And this context cannot ignore the pandemic and its effects on the restaurant industry, as well as the war in Ukraine, the energy shortage, the exorbitant rise in the shopping basket and other phenomena that end up having repercussions on their businesses. ‘People want to go out, but they don't understand that we have to raise their restaurant bills when there is no other way’, says Carles Pérez de Rozas, who regrets ‘this feeling that there is a universal right to go out and eat cheaply, without thinking about what it costs us to offer the quality we do’. This chef speaks of a problem that goes beyond that, because ‘everything is related and it is normal for them to protest when they don't raise the wages of those diners for whom we have to charge a little more to be able to maintain the level’. In the end, she agrees with Greta Rafaelli of Rafaelli, or Tamsin Wright and Paula Ospina of Les Filles Café (door to door with Berbena), everyone has to look for solutions and do some fine-tuning to be sustainable. ‘Also in terms of working conditions and quality of life for our employees,’ says Pérez de Rozas. And that requires adapting the business to the opening hours or days they can afford. ‘I thought that so much work would have better economic results,’ says Ospina, who, although the business is running successfully, does not hide the fact that the price increase prevents them from earning what would correspond to the effort and the influx of customers. ‘Electricity has gone up 110% in the last year, to give just one example’, says Pérez de Rozas, who assures that ‘we have to find a way to be efficient, if we don't want to disappear’.

The complicities range from discussing solutions to the current situation to cooperating on day-to-day issues. Tamsin Wright says that it is common to receive boxes from a supplier when a neighbour is not there or to ask for milk if they have run out: ‘We don't feel we are in competition, but rather we are certain that we all add up together’, she concludes. Josep Maria Masó, new to the area, has already used a food processor from one of the nearby restaurants. Good neighbours are also there for such things. And even more so in difficult times.

Four steps away
 -Berbena Minerva, 6
 -Brabo Sèneca, 28
 -Gina Balmesina Riera Sant Miquel, 29
 -Les FillesCafè Minerva, 2
 -Paral·lelo Sèneca, 28
 -Rafaelli Luis Antúnez, 11
 -Roig Robí Sèneca, 20
 -SlowMov Luis Antúnez, 18
 -Tangana Riera Sant Miquel, 19


La Vanguardia
12 febrero 2023
Cristina Jolonch
Photo Mané Espinosa