Adapting to change: Serving up something new with food truck-inspired takeaway

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in just about everyone’s plans. Business owners were forced to adjust their operations and offerings, cope with complete lockdowns and adapt to change at a moment’s notice. One of these business owners is Pau Fernández, owner of Somewhere Café, a trio of coffee shops in Barcelona.

Fortunately, Pau is no stranger to change. When he opened the café’s first location, he walked away from a decades-long banking career. And when the first COVID-19 lockdown hit, he was quick to come up with a solution to keep business coming in. We talked to Pau to learn more about his background, his inspiration for Somewhere Café and how he’s adapted his business with a food truck-inspired pop-up.

Turning coffee into a career

After working in corporate banking for 16 years, a weekend coffee tasting inspired Pau to make a career change. “Specialty coffee was just starting to become fashionable,” he said. “And I loved the product. I’d wanted to leave banking for years, but I wanted to make sure I would be able to support myself.”

He saw an opportunity to bring something new to his neighborhood in Barcelona, and was excited to pursue a more creative career path. “I realized the idea of specialty coffee hadn’t been developed yet in Spain, so I went on a trip with my wife. We went to Berlin, London and Copenhagen to visit specialty coffee shops,” Pau explains. “The saying, ‘It’s better to be first than it is to be better’ became our motto. We realized this concept didn’t exist yet in San Cugat…that’s why I set up Somewhere Café in 2013. I called it that because for me, it defines that idea of finding something new when you travel abroad, but realizing when you get back home it doesn’t exist there.”

During his time at the bank, Pau had worked with clients in the hospitality industry – so he felt confident he had a good idea of what he’d need financially to start a business. “I had a colleague at the bank whose husband was a professional chef. We decided to focus the new business on brunch. At the beginning, he took care of the food side and I took care of the management side.”

When he first started Somewhere Café, Pau says he was more excited than afraid. “I remember that I had more anxiety than fear because I really wanted to grow quickly and set up multiple locations.” And thanks to his efforts, Pau was able to open three locations in the first five years of business.

Now, when Pau thinks about being a small business owner, he’s grateful for being able to do something he loves…and getting to be his own boss. “It’s true the last year has been very hard, but just as I acknowledge we’ve had to change, I also acknowledge that I’m a person who needs those changes. I need new challenges. Having my own business is an advantage because I can change things in order to surprise people and avoid monotony.”

Making a bold statement

When Pau first opened the café, he gave away free coffee vouchers to everyone who passed by – because the storefront was so small, he didn’t think it stood out enough. “Now, I’ve discovered that banners, flowers and lights really attract people passing by.”

Once customers are enticed to come inside, they find a stand-out experience within the café itself. “At Somewhere Café, we define ourselves by quality ingredients, putting on a bit of a show – I won’t deny it – and above all, treating the customer well,” Pau says. “I always tell my employees [my] story so that the concept of Somewhere Café is clear to them: It’s like your best friend’s house when they come back from a trip somewhere.”

You’re welcomed with a smile, they’ve brought back a memento from their travels and you’re bound to have a good enough time to return.

Brewing something different

During the first COVID-19 lockdown, Pau got creative. Since he couldn’t serve people inside the café, he made it his mission to make takeaway as fun as possible. So, he transformed the café’s storefront to make it look like a food truck. “I really believe that in this day and age, adapting is one of the most important things you can do.”

In a sad, uncertain time, Pau wanted to offer something fun and attractive from the get-go. “We’d had food trucks in the past, and I suddenly had a brainwave and thought, ‘I’m going to set up a food truck, but at the front of my café.” With a few pieces of lumber, some colorful banners and plenty of flowers, Pau created a fresh facade for Somewhere Café in just 48 hours. His first idea was to sell crepes from this food truck-stye outpost, and when summer came, he switched to ice cream. (All he had to do was swap out the banner!)

Pau got a positive response from the community and his employees…and the business flourished. “At that time, when things were so dark, we wanted people to come to their local café and smile. Our customer feedback was amazing. I’ve never been thanked as much as I was during that time. It gives me goosebumps to think about it,” Pau remembers. “And in terms of numbers, we did very well considering the situation. There were a lot of people who told us we should keep it like that forever.”

Much to his customers’ delight, Pau is planning to continue the food truck pop-up. “In the winter, we’re thinking of going hot chocolate with churros, crepes and waffles. In summer, ice cream and slushies.” And because he wants to keep customers interested and excited about the café, Pau plans on changing the window’s look from one pop-up to the next.

Pau’s marketing must-haves

When Pau opened the doors to the first Somewhere Café in 2013, the first thing he purchased to market the café was business cards. “Then came the posters, employee T-shirts and loyalty cards. At first we didn’t make menus, but we do those now, too.” He employs his own kids to leave menus around the neighborhood, and also puts them inside to-go bags as a reminder. “We want customers to keep us in mind and come back.”

Pau uses labels and stickers to promote the café, too. “We put them on paper bags and sandwich wrappers so that customers can see that we made the food ourselves. Just joking!”

Somewhere Café sells branded merchandise, including mugs, T-shirts and tote bags. “I decided to order tote bags because I saw that people would come and buy pastries to go, and it seemed like a good idea so they could take them home. And if it’s a customer’s birthday, we always give them a bag. I think if you receive a gift like that from your favorite place, it creates a good connection…and when your place seems cool, people will pay to wear your branding.”

When he set up the food truck-inspired takeout window, he used banners to give the pop-up an old-school look. “That’s why I used red and black, because they’re colors you would associate with street stalls.” Pau decided to use banners because he found them a cost-effective way to create a stand-out experience. “They’re versatile, you can move them, you can put them outdoors and use them for a lot of different things. They’re a really easy, impactful tool.”

Posters are another marketing tool Pau uses a lot for Somewhere Café, both inside and out. “I use posters for seasonal offers so people can quickly see the information. For example, when I introduce a new drink or a new dish, a poster is a great visual support.”

Must-have advice

“What really attracts customers is when existing customers tell other people. That creates a web of customers.”