Lluís Costa, who was a speaker at InterSICOP 2019, is an example of how working as a pastry chef in a small town like Sant Esteve de Palautodera (Barcelona) is compatible with earning a great national reputation.
The chef, the second generation to run Pastelería Vallflorida, holds the title for the Best ‘Pasta de Te’ (cookie) in Spain 2018, the Best Croissant in Spain 2015 and the Award for the Best Innovative Young Food Artisan 2012 in Catalonia, as well as runner up in the Young Pastry Chefs of Spain (CANJOP) and Santapau (Best Spanish Chocolate Artisan).
1.- What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a rural environment for a pastry chef?
One of the advantages of our Vallflorida cake shop is its location in a town at the foot of the Montseny, a natural, rural environment popular with tourists. Things are slow during the week, because Sant Esteve de Paulautordera has a population of just 2,500. We make our living from the visitors who come on Saturdays and Sundays, so we can spend the week planning a good strategy for the products that we are going to sell during the weekend. Another advantage is that we work with local products, and know our honey, fruit and nut suppliers, which means we are very familiar with the products and how to get the best out of them.
When it comes to drawbacks, there are far fewer people during the week than on Saturdays and Sundays. However, this gives us the opportunity to look for other lines of business. For example, we have started selling our products online and distributing chocolate products. Our sales are growing every year and cake shops and gourmet shops nationwide can sell our top quality products. Therefore, we have three marketing channels: the shop, online sales and wholesale.
2.- What are the keys to your popularity and how do you attract customers from nearby towns?
Social networks are important at the moment, that is why we use them to communicate who we are and reach our target audience. However, there is nothing like word of mouth, when people praise our products and our business. And thanks to the work of my parents and the team, nowadays people come from as far as Barcelona and Girona to buy our pastries, cakes and chocolate. Making this happen requires effort, work, hard graft, always giving the best we have and bringing back customers again and again.
3.- How do you get ready to deal with the increased demand at weekends?
As we make the bulk of our sales at weekends, we work with a dessert menu and we try to let our customers know which products we have at each time of the year. As I have already mentioned, we make the products from Monday to Friday to ensure our cake shop features on our customers tables during the weekend.
I think that cake shops in towns and cities alike have generally stopped being concerned about freshness. The 100% freshly baked cake shop concept has been abandoned. We are aware of this in Vallflorida and do our best to fill our roscones or puff pastry crowns with cream at the time of sale, and to sell fresh pastries and, if possible, we bake twice a day. Of course, this depends a lot on the demand.
4.- Having a pastry shop in a town like yours forces you to cater for the tastes of your local audience as well as visitors from outside. Are they similar?
At the end of the day, you have to be creative and inventive all the time, although the truth is that everything is an invention. We need to try to make more sophisticated pastries, with a combination of flavours and textures that surprise our customers when they visit us, but without forgetting our roots, who we are and what we deserve. It is very important to master traditional baking. Our business values this product line highly, since a well-cooked puff pastry with an impeccable fresh dough in the mouth is priceless. Therefore, our strategy is to combine both styles of pastry, We have customers who want the classics that are always a hit, while others want to surprise their friends and family with bold desserts with unusual flavours and original formats. At Vallflorida we want to exalt the value of high-quality and traditional desserts.
5.- Does being far from the city cause any problems when it comes to getting the supplies you need? Do you have to place larger orders or order in advance?
We are lucky to be in a town just 50 minutes from Girona and Barcelona, so we can get weekly deliveries from the best quality product retailers in the land.
In the end, being in a town means that it may take a little longer to receive certain products, so we have to plan the work ahead of time, decide what we are going to make every week and place our orders in time. But in the end, this is a big advantage. Organising production gives us the highest possible returns.
6.- Do factors such as the weather influence the normal operation of the cake shop?
Of course. In our case, when summer arrives, people want to go to the beach, but in mid-July they go up to the mountains to switch off and want a different type of leisure activity.
It is also true that when there is a big storm or a lot of rain, we have fewer weekend visitors and our sales suffer a bit.
7.- What tips do you have for any colleagues who would like to set up shop in a town but haven’t done so yet?
Living in a town where practically everyone knows each other gives you the type of peace and quiet, natural surroundings and quality of life that you cannot have in a city. Naturally, there are pros and cons, but in the end we are in this world to live and enjoy ourselves, and what better way to do it than somewhere peaceful where you can be happy. If, on top of that, you can build your business and earn recognition, that’s priceless.
If you have the enthusiasm, desire and strength to fight for your project, never look back, open your mind and persevere, because that’s the way to achieve what you want. As Pep Guardiola once said, it is the early risers of this world who are unstoppable.