Opened just a few months ago, Tierra Burrito Bar already has been getting rave reviews by Spanish and American customers alike for its Mexican food and stylish interiors — a combination you’d be hard pressed to find in other Mexican restaurants around Madrid.
It’s cliché, but the crisis provides opportunities. Madrid is changing, the population is hungry for new things… It’s one of the few capital cities that still has so much room for growth.
Ryan Day, one of the young entrepreneurs behind the restaurant’s success, first came to Madrid about six years ago to do a Master’s in English literature at St. Louis University. After a short time away spent teaching in China and working on a doctorate in Arizona, Ryan returned to Madrid in 2010, this time to be with his Spanish pareja de hecho.
“I always imagined myself living in Europe, more so than the US, so I was looking for an opportunity for me to stay and opening a business seemed slightly more appetizing in the short term than teaching English. That’s pretty much how I came about,” he grins.
Ryan and co-owner Dan Crawley met in Madrid while Ryan was proctoring the LSAT that Dan was taking. They became fast friends and daydreamed about doing something in Spain one day.
“Later, Dan went to law school, and I went to China, then on to ASU to work on a Doctorate in English lit. Dan came to visit a couple of times and we ended up hatching our plan,” he recalls.
“We basically had the idea of opening something here and then kind of stumbled upon the idea of the burrito. In Chicago, where I’m from, burritos are pretty much what you eat growing up,” Ryan laughs.“We wanted to do something that wasn’t already in Madrid but we wanted to have a space that wasn’t so fast food — a space where people could come and spend time in as well. Something with a little more Chicago or New York kind of feel to it.”
So Ryan and Dan hired the architectural firm, Plantea Arquitectos, who not only helped them with the project but also helped them organize the work.
“That was something that would have been a lot harder for us, having never done anything like this here.”
Setting up business in Madrid is not for the faint of heart, and even with the help of a Madrileño architectural firm, Ryan had his fair share of dealing with the much-loathed Spanish bureaucracy.
“I would say the hardest thing is knowing what is required. It’s very hard to satisfy requirements as well because it’s hard to figure out exactly what they are.”
“For instance, in this neighborhood, there’s a requirement that for 10% of the people that you can seat, you have to have parking spaces available. That didn’t really become apparent until pretty far into it so now we’re in the process of looking for 15 parking spaces within 100 meters. And that’s just one example of a lot of things that can pop up.”
“The terraza was also an issue. I think we’re going to have it figured out in the next month or so. There’s always a surprise from the police,” Ryan smiles.
Some of the other hurdles the two faced were licensing issues and renovating part of a protected building.” We had problems with what we were going to do with the fachada and also what we could do inside.”
But despite having to work around strict building regulations, the restaurant’s exposed brick walls, microcement floors and vintage garden furniture landed them in a recent issue of Architectural Digest España.
Four months in, Tierra Burrito Bar seems to be doing brisk business. “Things have gone surprisingly well for us but our market maybe is a little different too,” Ryan says, referring to the large number of American students that frequent the restaurant from nearby St. Louis University and Suffolk University.
Part of the reason for its early success is the different eating schedules that Americans and Spanish have. The lunch hour sees its first wave of American students come in at noon and then a second wave of Spanish diners arrive at 2pm. The same goes for dinner, when the restaurant is full of Americans who typically eat at 6pm and then the Spanish fill the place up again at 9pm.
“It’s really an effective way to keep the restaurant basically full over more hours than a typical restaurant here would be,” Ryan says.
Price is also a big factor in Tierra Burrito Bar’s success. Looking at the menu, the most expensive meal item is €6.65.
“We made it a point to have a price that’s more expensive than a kebab but that’s less than going out to a restaurant wherein you might have a waiter,” he says looking over to the ordering counter.
Ryan admits he “never really developed the skill” for teaching English, but his advice for people who want to break out of it is to “just go for it.”
“There are so many opportunities in Madrid, so many places where what’s familiar and easy fills a void in the culture. Burritos are such an obvious gap that we filled. Breakfast and sandwiches, too. It’s cliche, but the crisis provides opportunities. Madrid is changing, the population is hungry for new things. Rents are more affordable. It’s one of the few capital cities that still has so much room for growth.”
“Chicago is really steeped in the sort of DIY mentality, and Madrid is a fantastic place to put that ethic to work. I really love this city for a lot reasons, but one of the biggest is that it feels incomplete, like there’s still work to be done here. It reminds me of sort of a 20’s Paris, or 80’s New York. There’s energy here. So, if you have an idea, it’s the perfect place to put it into action.”
I've been living in Madrid since 2007, married to a madrileño since 2008, and mom to our son since 2011. Tech is my thing. I love salmorejo, matrimonios and cazón adobado. I don't watch football.