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EAT LOCAL WITH

DELUZ Y COMPAÑÍA 

Deluz y Compañía

Away from the big European capitals, sustainable businesses can also be successful thanks to a combination of innovative ideas and local products. Co-founder of the Spanish hospitality and food company Deluz y Compañía Carlos Zamora tells our editor José M. Sainz-Maza how we can do so.

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza

11/03/2021

Carlos Zamora

The
Conception 

On the Atlantic coast of northern Spain, the green grassy hills stretch from the mountain pastures to the sea.
It is there, in Santander, capital of the Cantabria region and my hometown, where
Deluz y Compañía was born 15 years ago.
This family-run company currently owns 8 restaurants in Santander and Madrid, as well as a recently created chain of organic supermarkets. With a turnover of 11 million euros in 2019, 51% of women in management positions, and 95% of permanent employees, the project founded in 2006 by
Carlos Zamora together with his sister Lucía has become a role model for those businesses that seek to implement sustainable practices in a comprehensive way.

“When we opened Deluz, our first restaurant, I had been working for years in managerial positions in large international restaurant chains like VIPS, and Lucía worked as a legal consultant for NGOs. We were clear that we wanted to create a company with a responsible social model from the beginning,” Carlos tells me shortly after our conversation begins. His friendly and close tone reflects his passion for a project to which he has devoted much of his time and energy for years. 

“Almost from the very beginning, in 2007, we began to establish commercial relationships with small producers of organic products and we switched to a model of direct purchase from farmers, something that had not been done in Spain until then.” Carlos highlights the importance of this bold move at a time very close to the start of the financial and economic crisis that would hit the country in the next few years. Precisely in this period, Deluz y Compañía expanded its business with the opening of other restaurants: Días Desur, El Machi, and El Italiano in Santander; and La Carmencita, Celso y Manolo, and Café Angélica in Madrid. Later would come the opening of La Caseta de Bombas also in Santander, in 2017, and La Vaquería Montañesa in the Spanish capital. 

El Súper de los Pastores

Deluz y compania

El Súper de los Pastores

How to succeed in times of economic recession in a market as saturated as the Spanish hospitality industry? Carlos responds emphatically: “As our products are ecological and come directly from the producer, they are tastier and of higher quality. At the same time, our employees are happy because of their good working conditions, resulting in higher quality service,” he explains. “We have always been concerned with facilitating work-life balance. Moreover, in our company, no one is discriminated against for reasons of religion, sex, or other. We have 150 people on our staff and it is essential that everyone feels respected and valued in order to give their best and be comfortable at work.”

Social
purpose

In keeping with its social purpose, people have always been at the center of Deluz y Compañía’s business model.
Many of the staff members have been with the company for years and have been promoted to managerial positions, while 25% of the employees come from various projects for people at risk of social exclusion.
On top of this, the company has also promoted several collaborative social initiatives over the years.
For instance, between 2009 and 2019 they ran a catering service for schools and other institutions together with AMPROS, a local association for people with intellectual disabilities.
“In 10 years, we went from serving 100 meals a day to more than 1,100,” Carlos says. 

Team at Deluz

Teal Organization

He also tells me how just over two years ago they thought the way the business was structured had to be improved, so they decided to implement a teal organization model. This empowers the staff and allows employees to choose their own team leaders and benefit from the growth of the company. As Carlos explains, “it is a more participatory model that allows the workforce to give voice to their concerns and that, in our case, led to the distribution of 30% of our annual profits among employees.” The more we talk, the clearer it becomes to me that their business model is far removed from the sadly common job insecurity and temporary nature that characterize many hospitality companies.

Sustainability is Key

Deluz y Compañía is also a company in which sustainability is key, something that entails certain risks in a medium-sized city in which there aren’t sufficiently large market niches and where there is not as much environmental awareness as among the inhabitants of the major European capitals. Asked about this, Carlos highlights the challenges of choosing organic products: “On the one hand, you must bear in mind that organic food is more expensive. However, we buy vegetables, fish, and meat directly from local producers, only those products that are in season and in whole pieces. For example, we buy a whole cow and take advantage of every part of it before buying another. This forces us to be more imaginative with the way we prepare our dishes -out of 200 kilos of meat, only 20 are entrecote-, but the quality of each dish is exceptional and customers love it.”

Restaurants and Covid-19 

“On the other hand, we seek to create welcoming environments in which everyone has a place, from the youngest to the oldest, since in a city the size of Santander you cannot offer an excessively specialized product,” he continues. “In addition, this fits perfectly with our mission, since we have avoided a tourist-focused model and we get people to come regularly, promoting local consumption and quality lifestyle. This is also reflected in our affordable average ticket price.”

Our conversation necessarily comes at this point to the event that has had the most impact in restaurants across Europe in recent times —the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our network of farmers has been key in this stage,” Carlos states. 

The Shepards’ Market

“In 2017, we created, together with six organic beef producers from the region, Siete Valles de Montaña (‘Seven Mountain Valleys’), a cooperative to preserve the natural environment of Cantabria and the traditional activity of the inhabitants of its rural areas closely linked to livestock for centuries. In addition to ensuring we have top-quality meat for our restaurants, we are very happy to contribute to curbing the depopulation of the rural world and help to maintain traditional ways of life, also linked to more responsible land use,” he shares. “We have always taken great care of relations with our suppliers, and with the arrival of the pandemic, we found ourselves having to market their products in a different way. This is how El Súper de los Pastores (‘The Shepards’ Supermarket’) was born.”

The Stores

For some months, just essential businesses such as supermarkets could remain open to the public in Spain, and after that restaurants could only reopen with restrictions, so founding a chain of food stores offering organic products was a perfect way out. “We brought together our nearly 100 suppliers, we consulted this project of small local supermarkets with them, and we launched it as soon as possible. Back then, we opened 8 stores in Cantabria, and we have recently opened 2 more in the nearby city of Bilbao and another in Madrid. We do not only offer fresh food, but we have taken advantage of our expertise in catering and we also sell ready-to-go meals.”

Deluz y Compañía

“Who knows, it might be possible to open one of our stores in Berlin at any point,” Carlos exclaims

Change in
Consumer Behaviour 

The success of these business initiatives established by Deluz y Compañía also shows a clear change in consumer behaviour —the growing interest of the population in organic products and a greater awareness of the impact of their choices on their health and the environment. “The pandemic has increased a change in trend that has already been taking place for some time. We have to buy more local, buy fewer and higher quality products. It is essential to ensure the traceability of the food we eat and to understand that we can reduce our carbon footprint through our purchasing decisions,” Carlos points out in this regard. 

Talking about sustainable food and the new trends that will come after the end of the pandemic is how our conversation comes to an end, but not before agreeing to have a coffee the next time I visit Santander. “Who knows, it might be possible to open one of our stores in Berlin at any point,” Carlos exclaims as we say goodbye.