BARCELONA — Spain is known for three-hour, Michelin-starred meals with bottles of vino, often accompanied by the sounds of live flamenco. While the luxury and tourism industries are still flourishing with expats, the recession has pulled the bottom out of local hospitality. From El Bulli to traditional tapas places, 12,000 Spanish bars and restaurants closed in the last three years alone. While the most well-known and unknown faces of Spain’s greatest attraction are struggling to survive, the recession has seen a rapid rise of restaurant chains that look to maintain the Castilian food tradition at a much lower price.
100 Montaditos, named after its menu of four-inch sandwiches, first opened in the south of Spain in 2000. The “mono-price + mono-product” system started out aiming to sell 100 different options for 100 pesetas each. The chain has seen rapid growth, particularly since the economic crisis began in 2008, and it now has about 250 franchises in Spain, as well as about 20 more around the world, including ten in Miami. In 2010, the chains’ parent company Restalia also opened La Sureña, more of a raciones (plates of cured ham or cheese) and seafood discount chain with more than 70 spots across the peninsula.
Of course, with Spain in such an economic quagmire, Restalia may be the discount dining leaders, but they aren’t the only ones. Similar chains, like Copas Rotas, which serves a large vino and tapas menu for a euro apiece, have been popping up to serve up Spanish tradition especially to the 60 percent of youth who are unemployed.
SmartPlanet talked to one Barcelona barrio bar that started selling five mini bottles of booze plus a tapa for 4€, while there’s a Madrid bar that offers two-for-one drinks to those that show their paro (unemployment) slip. As more and more bars and restaurants are dropping their bottom line, the discount chains are going even lower, with 100 Montaditos taking the discount food race to the next level last year by introducing “Partimos en el euro,” offering Spanish patrons all their sandwiches for merely 50 cents each on Mondays.