Mercado Little Spain, A Food And Restaurant Complex Arrives In New York City To Raves – Forbes

Restaurant News

The number one restaurant on the Top 10 list of best new eateries of 2019 by Pete Wells. the New York Times’ restaurant critic, was Mercado Little Spain. Owned by highly-rated chef Jose Andres and his Think Food Group, it is located in Hudson Yards, New York City’s newest neighborhood, a residential and commercial complex that opened to mixed architectural reviews. 

Wells described Mercado Little Spain as a “labyrinth of Spanish restaurants, bars, cafes, kiosks and shops.” He said it made New York’s Spanish food scene “what, five times better? Ten times?”

The most important foods served, Wells noted, “are the most elementary: the gazpacho that shimmer with olive oil and sherry vinegar; the thick, dark hot chocolate that comes with churros just out of the fryer.”

In fact, Mercado Little Spain does for Spanish food, what Eataly, which was opened by Mario Batali, does for Italian food, but has a wider array of retail spaces, kiosks and eateries.

It debuted on March 15, 2019 in a 35,000 square-foot-space, huge by Manhattan standards. It’s co-owned by real-estate firms Related Corporation and Oxford Properties Group, which developed Hudson Yards. 

In fact, it numbers over 15 different eateries. It also features Mar, a restaurant devoted to seafood, Lefia, which specializes in foods of the Basque country, and Spanish Diner, which serves all-day dining including breakfast, and could be a spot to watch soccer games.

It includes the Bar Celona, which specializes in cocktails and the Colmado, a retail shop for Spanish dry goods, canned seafoods and cookbooks.

When this reporter had lunch there on a Sunday at noon, it was jammed with customers, who appeared to be predominantly tourists, not locals. Throngs circulated through the various food stalls for pastries, sandwiches, and bars for drinks, but there weren’t enough seats to accommodate all of the people ordering food. Where do they all sit and eat, I wondered?

I ended up dining at Bar Monolo, a Barcelona-like bar with tapas, sandwiches, and wines. The major attraction was: I found a seat at the bar. But the café con leche was strong and tasty, and the tapas, grilled mussels with potato chips grilled and cured sausage, were savory.

Yelp consumers raved about the food but also noted its cramped spaces. Christa, from Denver, for example, noted how “it gets crowded and the space is small but the quality of food was incredible!’ She praised the meat paella and said the “charcuteries melted in your mouth” but also said cocktails were “pricey.”

Here’s what Eric Martino, COO of Think Food Group, who previously was a part-owner and general manager of a Carrabba’s Italian Grill from 2006-2012, said about Mercado Little Spain:

You’re trying to bring Barcelona and its food to New York. How so?

Martino: Jose Andres, 30 years ago, came through on a Navy ship, and had the dream to put something in New York City, and this is his love letter to New York. It’s essentially bringing Spain to Hudson Yards.

Food-wise, what’s new about Mercado Little Spain?

Martino: It’s authentic, the way Spanish people eat their food, and that’s felt throughout the kiosks and full-service restaurants. For example, take the insalata russa, which is a salad with potatoes, peas, and is a mayo-based tuna salad. It keeps the integrity of Spanish food and is served in a market as if was Barcelona or Valencia. 

How does Jose Andres establish culinary standards when there are 15 restaurants, including kiosks, bars and stores?

Martino: Jose is very much involved culinarily. We have a team of research and development staff that makes sure the products and the recipes are where they need to be with consistency. We have a great team of culinary leaders that want to focus on finding the best new products from Spain and working on exciting festivals we might run.

Who is Mercado Little Spain targeting?

Martino: It targets Spanish people, tourists, New Yorkers—everyone.

It seems as if it’s mostly tourists, correct?

Martino: I think that’s natural. It’s probably 65% tourists and 35% locals.

What is it doing to attract locals?

Martino: The residences are still being built around us, though several businesses are already in. Facebook is coming, and there’s a lot to be built up. There’s a large Spanish population in the city. They respond viscerally to what a Spanish market is like. 

But how does a consumer find a seat? There don’t seem to be enough of them.

Martino: We’re working on it. We’ve changed up things in the kiosks to have more seating availability. We’ve also added more places for folks to stand and eat. The restaurants have plenty of seats for people who want a sit-down experience. In the market, we’ve added more tables and will continue to do so.

Staffing such a large complex is quite an undertaking. How do you do it?

Martino: First of all, we’re taking care of them. People that join our group share our mission statement to change the world through the experience of food. Our managers and operators are great at connecting with our folks and giving them the resources they need to take care of our guests.

What will determine the success of Mercado Little Spain?

Martino: It should be measured in different ways. First and foremost, we want people to get the same reaction every time they walk in. Profitability is a big one and that people experience what we’re trying to provide them.

Are there future Mercado Little Spain projected in other cities?

Martino: Nothing to share at this time. 

Ultimately what is Mercado Little Spain about?

Martino: It’s our people, the people who serve our guests and tell the story of what we’re trying to do, and the food, retaining the authentic cuisine of Spain.

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