Along Madrid's narrow calles, a new generation of creative entrepreneurs is transforming traditional concepts of retail and hospitality. And nobody is doing it better than pop-up agency Better es Mejor. With a dose of Madrileño cool the ephemeral pop-ups act as a springboard for lesser known Spanish brands and chefs. Based in Madrid but with a vagabond mind-set, they have been creating innovative pop-ups across Spain since 2011.
Better are expanding fast out of their quirky offices in Madrid - a renovated garage filled with wood-panelled desks serves as headquarters. Since 2012 founder Inés Sierra de la Guardia and her team have grown from a Christmas pop-up in a wooden cart to a restaurant hosting some of Spain's Michelin-starred chefs.
At present, Better's focus is on The Table By, a project that brings to Madrid's Urso Hotel the talent of six Spanish chefs from different regions. Each chef has a six-week period in which they design and cook two tasting menus, and with the help of the Better aesthetic, transforms the hotel into an entirely new dining space each time.
We sat down with Inés to find out where they're popping-up next.
SUITCASE MAGAZINE: What was your first project?
INÉS SIERRA DE LA GUARDIA: Our first project was in the patio of Frederica & Co. in Calle de Hermosilla where we stayed for about a month and a half. There we assembled a wooden cart (no more than one-by-two metres) constructed for the occasion. We sold the French brand Atypyk that created small gifts with a slight twist - for instance not your typical ruler or doormat, but something a little different.
SM: What excites you about the concept of pop-up projects?
ISG: You have to do a lot in a little time. There are a lot of things to organise and there is a lot of pressure driving your work. For instance, with our Christmas pop-up, The Hovse, we had a building of three floors in which we created the whole shop in just a week and a half before it opened. You can only rent the building for a short period - if you aren't quick enough the money, the budget, everything will go. So yeah - what motivates me is the pressure to do a lot, to express your creativity and ingenuity, but quickly.
SM: What is key to having a successful pop-up?
ISG: A lot of hard work. And of course, making things that are beautiful, unique and well-thought through. There has to be a unity that brings everything together, there has to be a communication right from the brand seller to the customer; a general aesthetic and feeling that unites it all.
SM: Speaking of unity, your current project, The Table By, unites six chefs together in Madrid. Although they are showcasing very different menus is there something that they all have in common?
ISG: We tried 30 restaurants in Spain of different calibres - some with Michelin stars; some without - but all of them were young restaurants, not ones that have been around for decades. But above all it is about innovative gastronomy. There are two tasting menus - one for €45 euros and one for €60 - and chefs need to be able to adapt their menus (which are sometimes more complex in their own restaurants) to our kitchen in the Urso Hotel.
SM: Do you Imagine The Table By extending further? Perhaps with chefs from around the world coming to Spain?
ISG: Yeah, in fact we just talked with a chef from outside of Spain about this because he was interested in our project. The problem is that it is complicated to work with chefs from abroad, because here in Madrid you can spend just €45 for the menu, but in Paris that would be unthinkable. So they would have to comply with our economy and while the costs are the same the menu is half the price.
SM: I have actually noticed that your current and past projects have a strong focus on representing Spanish brands?
ISG: Yes because not only are they unique, but also I think that we have to support them - more than ever at the moment because of the financial crisis! This is a way in which we can help - there are a lot of artists who are missing out because they don't have the necessary infrastructure, so in this way we act as a spokesperson for a chef or a brand.
Inés from Better es Mejor's Quickfire Guide to Madrid:
What is your favourite café or restaurant in Madrid?
Olivia te Cuida or La Vinoteca de Moratin.
Your favourite bar or place to dance in Madrid?
Your favourite shop in Madrid?
Do Design and Yellow&Stone.
The best way to relax or escape?
To disconnect I go to my house in Madrid, or my family house in the country, in Ávila. I always go there when I want to relax.
What advice would you give visitors as a local?
Do the Walk with Me guides that have everything you need to know and where to go in Madrid by barrios. Go through Madrid walking - you will discover incredible places yourself.