A Sweet Fail

The sweet part of an idea is the conception, the greasy is the business

About a year ago I decided to start a project that would converge many ideas that I previously was tinkering with. Most of the project was inspired by my personal experience living in Barcelona but also my leisure travel time, so no doubt I was hoping to be involved in an international game.

A sweet start

I wanted to get into the pastry business adding a pinch of difference to the market with new technologies available. From an early age I’ve been a sweet craving type of guy. You name it: from the traditional or idiosyncratic to the exotic and mysterious, from the cheap down to earth to the exclusive craft. Also I’m a curiosity driven being who appreciates the good side of tech achievement.

Europe got its own reputation as the source of many sweet inventions so I’ve had a good opportunity to taste many different flavors and compare them. One in particular call my attention: churros. The ubiquitous Spanish fritter came to me as the right candidate for my project.

Yes, churros

Contrary to what I previously thought about it, the cradle of churro is a extremely conservative place, locals are so accustomed to the original recipe that minor changes or creative variations are practically nonexistent, so for me there was a lot of room to play.

With the help of my wife I did a substantial research, and what I found, confirm my expectations. The approach to the same product in the rest of Europe, America, Africa, Asia or even Oceania is much more rich on complexity and differences, Spain was the less risky business model. While USA, for example, make some churros “on steroids” available filled with many toppings but avoiding the orthodoxy of the original recipe (by including eggs), others countries make the best effort to guarantee the “traditional” recipe with mixed results, nevertheless apart from that, in Asia, the lead on disruption always come from Japan.

© Kyoto Saryo

You’re never enough prepared to what Japanese sweet confectionery are capable of. Their traditional wagashi could turn the healthy nature of ingredients into artistic flavors, also their meticulously adapted versions of western sweets are incredibly high standard indulgences. But that’s just not stopping there, Japan is also famous for their edible ideas that adapt, combine or simply create new products from scratch and churros are not an exception. Shapes, flavors, design, packaging, all this factors are explored in the Japanese market to a big extent to give any edible product a significant quality and appealing image, the best part is Japanese customer are eager to give it a try. Inspired by that market I felt that it was about time to apply some of this innovation to a true classic.

© Tokyo Disney / © Guru Churro / © Churro☆Star

A tech flavor

I clearly remember 2012, 3D Printing started making a lot of noise so I imagined a way to integrate this emerging technology into the pastry business. Once again looking at Japan, I noticed the experience of FabCabe. FabCafe originally established in Tokyo is a place that offers (along with coffee and some food) the possibility to experience the maker movement by letting you use technology for prototyping, at the same time nurturing a sense of community.

© Fab Cafe

My main idea was add innovation to a worldwide known fritter: Churros+Makers, I took the example of pasta or potato chips, in many shapes and many flavors. What if (thanks to available Maker technologies) We could create tools or some original cast to bake churros beyond the tradition limits? different shapes? different flavors?

It was a chance NOT to make only ornamentation or more trash but edible art.

I imagine a cozy space in Barcelona that may include a 3D Printing service for customers so they could customize the shape of their favorite snack previous to be served in ways not seen before, a laboratory of snacks, a Xurro Lab, then Barcelona would be "Churrocon Valley" 😄.

I was thinking about printing pieces that help to produce the ingenious shape of the snack, at that time I wasn't aware of the quick improvement in development of 3D printers that can actually print food.

As a part of my continuous research process -previous to the first sketch- I ran into an unexpected event. Don’t ask me how but I ended up at a conference listening to a couple of young pastry chef entrepreneurs who found the same unexplored churro field as I did, coincidence?

Weeks later We had a meeting and We exchange ideas, actually they were really open and friendly. Thanks to them I realized the big amount of work that this kind of business need. Laws and contradictory regulations for the food business are really hard to overcome. They were approaching the idea from the gourmet side adding new flavors and high quality standards to their product in a pop and trendy environment along with packaging, branding and illustrations designed specially for their product. If you come to Barcelona don’t miss it.

© Gastroeconomy.com

By my side I was still thinking in a way to make my project a reasonable opportunity for investment taking Japanese market as example. Because Japanese cities are very dense and people walk everywhere, customers are willing to pay a premium to shop at local stores (*).

What about some Barcelona customers? Maybe, some exception rules may be applied to tourists or the widespread myth of the proximity local shop. Another distinction: common Japanese customers love quality fresh food and do-it-yourself approach to leisure time. What about common Western customers?

Bob: So bad. What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?

Weeks later I got some other news, a FabCabe’s branch in Barcelona was about to open, nevertheless the people involved in the branch clearly were going in another direction not even closer to my intentions and much better for their business.

Bittersweet Conclusion

The bitter: I came to the conclusion that I cannot face this field alone within a precarious environment, I invest time and money in a business model full of flaws and is better to know when to stop.

The sweet: Time pass and opportunities in this field are mixed, by now, in my opinion the 2 sides (the gourmet and the maker) are still separated by Moore’s law. Anyway things are going really fast and probably soon You will see the next snack from Barcelona in a complete different way.