Today we will see an example of how an ancient business faces centenary success, turns into a chain and makes different styles of shops coexist preserving the same common essence.
Arrese patisserie is a legend in Bilbao, at the Basque Country. Its founder Ildefonso Arrese opened the first store in 1852, a food store that became a bakery thanks to their own homemade sweets success. The business grew and several stores were opened, of which after the Spanish Civil War its current flagship only survived, at Gran Vía 23. This is the shop visited last week.
Nowadays, Ms. Carmen Orueta Arrese, founder’s granddaughter, and his son Gonzalo, in addition to properly continuing the family business, during the past 15 years are involved in its expansion, opening six new stores; the latter with a completely different design also incorporates a coffee lounge.
The almost hundred-year-old Gran Vía shop, built in 1923, retains much of the original furniture and decoration. Upon entering, an amazing counter made of Carrara marble catches your attention. At its back, wonderful wooden shelves act as a perfect frame. ‘These columns are no longer made now’, the person in charge says, pointing the large twisted ornaments. And on top, a magnificent glass lamp hangs from the ceiling.
As for its products, the absolute stars are their famous chocolate truffles, together with a great variety of pastries. Special mention for Basque typical sweets such as local brioches with butter inside and ‘rice cakes’ (which do not carry rice, only basic ingredients: butter, puff pastry, milk, sugar and eggs). And with great success, also they combine these exquisite traditions with innovative recipes such as croissants with chocolate and orange, or pistachio marzipans.
The secret of a centenary success
Which is the key factor of this long success? ‘Quality’, they admit immediatetly, ‘that is the secret. An excellent raw material is just fundamental, together with absolute freshness of all the products. All of them are produced on daily basis; even sometimes we send up to three daily deliveries to the biggest stores’.
Another interesting aspect is the relevance of a notorious craftsmanship. `Here we do not care about the aesthetic perfection; homogeneity is not a key value at all, but flavour and authenticity’. And it is absolutely true. This pastry is just delicious, like small pieces of art. And that is why their small shops are so crowded that it is impossible to finish the interview!
New times, new spaces
The successful contrast between tradition and innovation is even more evident in the newest store, opened just a few months ago and located very close to the previous one. New store presents a modern and elegant design in black and white colours, with some nods to the past, such as old-fashioned fonts on their posters and signposts.
This duality is also shown in the bronze lamps, showing a modern design combined with a colour that take you to the past, like the background music, a fantastic voice of Billie Holiday and other jazz standards.
Store is small, but superbly located at the very centre of Bilbao, just in front of one of the main underground stations and very close to the best shopping area. It was worth it to take the risk of venturing into the Horeca Channel. Arrese’s proven quality may have been the best guarantee of success.
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Texts and images by Monica Garcia Bustamante