Interior of 100 Montaditos unit on Bleecker street.
Fast-casual burrito, burger and sandwich chains have become fixtures on the American dining landscape. Fast-casual tapas, however, has not.
But Spain’s 100 Montaditos is seeking to change that with a restaurant inspired by 19th century Spanish taverns.
The restaurant features a bar up front serving beer, wine, sangria and espresso, along with raised bar tables that can accommodate two or three people. Larger tables are in the back.
The service style is fast casual. When guests order and pay at the bar, they receive a number to display at their table, and their food and drinks are brought to them.
The menu is mostly comprised of small sandwiches, or montaditos — the chain does, indeed, offer 100 varieties — along with French fries, salads, charcuterie and cheese platters, paella and a traditional potato-and-egg dish called tortilla española. The montaditos are stuffed with premium ingredients, including different varieties of Spanish ham and cheese, anchovies and shrimp. Americanized versions are stuffed with Philly cheese steak, hot dogs and barbecued pulled pork.
The miniature sandwiches start at $1.50. Spanish red wine, including Crianza and Tempranillo, start at $5 per glass, and pitchers of beer and sangria are available starting at $8.71 and $10.89, respectively.
“The tradition in Spain is to share this kind of montaditos on a platter with beer and wine. We want to be the same in the United States,” said Francisco Javier Cernuda, 100 Montaditos’ chief executive for the United States, where 100 Montaditos first arrived in 2011.
In the U.S., the chain currently has two company-owned and 14 franchised restaurants. Most of them are in the greater Miami and Orlando, Fla., areas Spanish parent company Restalia selected because of their strong Spanish heritage. There are also locations in the Washington, D.C., area; Davenport, Iowa; and New York.
There are more than 350 locations of the restaurant in Spain, where the concept originated in 2000. Locations have also opened in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Italy and Portugal.
The first New York location opened in November near New York University. The franchisee for the state, Mini Hospitality, recently committed to opening an additional 28 locations over the next three years, the first of which is slated to open on the city’s Lower East Side before Labor Day.
“Some of our partners experienced in Spain were fascinated by its sophisticated offerings in the fast-casual market,” said Brian Crawford, Mini Hospitality’s vice president of operation and expansion.
He said the average per person check at lunch is $8-$11, a bit below the nearly $12 average worldwide, according to Cernuda. The average check at dinner is $14-$20, when customers are more likely to order pitchers of beer or a shared item such as paella.
Cernuda said Americans also tend to order more sandwiches per person than in Spain.
Alcohol sales are a challenge in the fast-casual segment, and that holds true even at a concept selling food traditionally intended as a supplement to drinks.
“At lunch in the United States, nobody drinks beer and wine,” Cernuda said, “so this is a different approach to the business. But we are here to integrate into American society, so we have to deal with that.”
Crawford said menu prices for the montaditos stay low because Restalia buys a lot of ingredients, particularly meats and bread, which are imported from Spain, and has systems in place to provide them cheaply.
“The parent company has set up a really good supply chain both with domestic suppliers of fresh produce and other [domestic] items, and imported items,” including the bread.
He also said he keeps a tight rein on portion sizes in restaurants, slicing the ham each morning and portioning them for each sandwich during prep.
“That does speed up service as well,” he said.