Member Spotlight: The Spanish Buffet

The Spanish Buffet

Having been trading as The Spanish Buffet for nine years, Emilio has been blessing Wales and the UK with glorious, organic paella dishes to acclaim.

He channels his heritage – hailing from the homeland of paella, Valencia – into nourishing and tasty food that has seen the business grow year on year, leaving more and more people with quality and unforgettable experiences of celebrated Spanish cuisine. We caught up with him to find out about the journey so far:

What inspired you to start your own catering journey?

I’m from Valencia which is the birthplace of the paella and it’s very famous – it’s something all the families do. Constantly, it is a part of every celebration, it is just a part of life there really so it is something I grew up with. So naturally I learned to make paella since I was a child, with the time you just learn what you’re doing and what works well with it.

When I came here to Wales it was something that I missed, so I started to look for the ingredients and began to make my own paella for my friends and people here that I knew. That’s when I started to think about turning it into a business, my own business. I began with just trying some small events, step by step things were growing. I had a business partner then, we had started The Spanish Buffet together but after some time he left to go back to Spain as his British adventure was over. However I’ve grown a family here – my partner is English, our children are half Spanish, half English – so I was setting my roots, and growing the business, applying for bigger festivals and trading more. Every year was getting bigger and doing more, all the while I’m learning and making the business better.

What is something that you find to be quite challenging about running the business?

When you start out small and look to grow, there is so much changing and readapting to do – always looking to improve what you’re offering, to keep your menu exciting and appealing to customers at different events can be a challenge. The bigger you grow, the more there is to look after and keep on top of too.

I think the biggest challenge for me, was to survive the COVID times which obviously was very tough for hospitality, but on the back of it there have been lots of opportunities as some traders decided it was the right time to retire, so in a selfish way some doors have been opened for me to reach places that were quite difficult to get to before.

Another big challenge for us was Brexit, which made getting certain ingredients and things harder, and it was a time where we had to react well and find a way to work around this.

What else makes up your offering as The Spanish Buffet?

We offer two or three kinds of paellas depending the festival, we also offer a few tapas dishes as well that can vary. We do sangrias too when it’s possible, but that can be quite difficult because of the extra precautions involved when it comes to selling alcohol – even though I have my personal alcohol license it can still be tricky.

Every year I try to introduce something new with the tapas. For this year with the paellas I’m planning to change the vegetables so it is more like original paella we have back home. So far I have been catering it more to British tastes which is great and people like it, but it’s not always true to the original values of the paella. So maybe it’s a bit of a risk to take but a decision I want to take.

Everything that we do is not just really tasty, but is also healthy, nutritional food and food that is accessible for everyone – we use fresh, organic ingredients, and our food has no allergens at all: It is dairy free, gluten free, good for vegetarian and vegans – really it does cater for everyone and is good for you, which is something we think is important to offer.

What do you think makes the perfect paella?

You need to have and use quality ingredients. There is no substitute for that – you can’t start with bad or cheap ingredients and mask that. So I try to source my ingredients from the best places – some are imported from Spain where I know is the best, the meat I get locally because you get some amazing quality Welsh meats and I like to keep loyal to my area if I can.

What do you find to be the most rewarding part of running your own business?

I really enjoy the freedom the business provides, having the time to do what I want to is really nice. Running a business is a lot of hard work, it is not easy but at the same time when you achieve your goals, it really does give you more than money in terms of the reward.

Some people would say to have a Ferrari in the drive is the reward and the commercial gain, but I am happy to be able to connect with my heritage and share it with so many people, to make people happy with the food I make. To create something that people appreciate is really pleasing, it makes me feel useful and happy. To start something from scratch, a business like this that grows from nothing, that is really rewarding.

Can you tell us about a highlight with The Spanish Buffet you’re proud of?

Last year we were trading at Download Festival, which was the 20th anniversary of that festival, we were there for four days. Obviously it’s a big festival with huge amounts of people there and we went there prepared, with a good team and everything but I still didn’t expect the success we had. We were so busy – it was lots of pressure and constant, but really good. Then when we’d finished for the day I was able to go and watch Ghost perform, and then Slipknot came on. It was incredible to have done as well as we had at a festival of that size, then be able to enjoy a moment like that just topped it all off. I even got a bit emotional!

If you could go back now and talk to yourself when you were first over starting the business, what advice would you give?

To keep calm is important. Opportunities are going to come, try not to worry and stress too much about things. Just try to move forward, I think it’s better go step by step. Sure I made a lot of mistakes on the way, but you learn through all of them. Ideally you’d be smarter about how you go about the business and the jobs you take, but on the other hand you have to go through those times and make mistakes to learn and get better.

How important is it to represent the traditional aspect of a paella and how it brings all the family together to eat as something that connects people?

Paella is more than just a food, it is a tradition to us. It brings everyone together, it is something of a ritual. All my life in Spain, with the family we would make a big paella, then all sit together around the table. So typically it will take a few hours to cook because you make a big portion, Valencia is full of orange trees and we like to use the wood from these trees for the cooking, it’s so good. We use a traditional dish, put the paella in the middle of the table, then everyone has a spoon and just enjoy it.

Of course there is always some leftovers, and some people say they prefer the paella on a Monday because it is just reheating the leftovers so your lunch or dinner is already ready – no cooking or preparation required!

So when we’re trading at some festivals or events I do like to cook up huge portions of the paella on big dishes, just like we do at home because it’s nice to show people, it is a lot more sustainable and efficient that way and you can see people’s eyes as they walk past like ‘wow’.

What does success look like for you?

I have two answers for this – I think the success for me is when people really enjoy what you are doing. When you’re trading at a festival and have a big queue, that’s always amazing. I love it when customers come back and express in an honest way how they feel about your food and give some feedback. Honest feedback is so helpful – sure it’s nice to be complimented but if something needs improving you need to know.

I remember a customer came back and said they enjoyed, but it was just a bit too salty. I think typically in Spain we use more salt, so to me it was fine but that was a change I needed to make to cater for my audience, for British tastes. So I’m really grateful to receive feedback like that, I appreciate the bravery it takes to come back and say something is wrong – but in the right way, that helps me to understand more and ultimately be able to achieve success with the business.

What is the plan for the future from where you are now and where the business is to go?

With the family I’ve got now, with young children, it does make you look at things differently and that translates into how you plan to operate the business. So my plan now is to trade at bigger and better festivals, but also reduce the amount of festivals we do. So focusing on quality over quantity, making really good on the bigger festivals where there is more people and opportunities, so having to work at less festivals overall which will allow me more time to spend with the family.

Find out more about The Spanish Buffet and follow their journey here.

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