In Arbúcies, the village of Montseny Girona of Abel Valverde's parents (Barcelona, 1976), the job options if you did not study were to work in a workshop assembling buses or in a water company. "I was a lousy student, I didn't even graduate from school, and in the summer my father started taking me to his workshop." In those years, and as a complement to his work, the family took a bar in the town that would change the life of who was head waiter of the Santceloni restaurant in Madrid (two Michelin stars) for 21 years -from when it opened until it closed- and today leads the restaurants of the "family" of Pescaderías Coruñesas.

This Catalan who arrived in Madrid at the age of 21 to captain the first project of the late Santi Santamaría in the capital is one of the most important voices in the hospitality sector. Direct in the message and leisurely in the forms, he is comfortable in his new home. "Since 1911 it has been a daily challenge and a unique project. We work to not be comfortable at any stage. It is a restaurant that makes us reinvent ourselves permanently, "he says sitting at one of the tables in the room.

After the strange closure of Santceloni after the pandemic, it was time to make decisions on a personal and group level. "That gave me respect and vertigo because I had never been standing," he says. He remembers with some unease the end of the project of his professional father and personal friend Santi Santamaría. "I am a very faithful person. If I'm comfortable in one place, I have no need to look outside." That was too abrupt a change of third, where the forms perhaps failed. "I'm a very emotional person. That's why I felt sad about how that stage ended; Why I wasn't allowed to say goodbye to customers, why that ending if we hadn't done anything wrong."

Change of course

In October 2020 he held the first conversations with Pescaderías Coruñesas (O'Pazo, El Pescador, Filandón...). "I also considered going abroad to work," he admits. To join any other project he only put one condition: "If I managed again I wanted it to be hand in hand with the property. Problems are dealt with face-to-face and without intermediaries." And so it was. "Here we talk about family, not a restaurant group," he clarifies in reference to his new home.

The "chance and fate" led him to the world of the room, that which for some time now has been claiming its place in the gastronomic experience. In his parents' bar he began to tend the bar and the terrace. "There I knew the hardness of the trade and I also saw that I liked it", although what he was really passionate about was cooking. At the age of 13 he visited the Girona School of Hospitality, one of the oldest in Spain, and the atmosphere captivated him. "I liked everything: the order, the discipline, the seriousness..." His initial idea was to enroll in cooking, but there was no place. "I started the first grade of the classroom with the idea of changing second grade to cooking and validating subjects, but I was so hooked that I stayed." He says he "fell in love" with the craft.

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Since then, the perception of the room in restaurants has changed a lot. "The room revolution had been claimed for some time: we had to update the agendas, create dynamic teams, work on emotional intelligence with the teams, get the best and worst out of each one and work on it positively," he explains confidently and in his calm tone. "The hotel industry cannot be the stronghold where you live badly, you work a lot ... Today the conditions are much better and will continue to improve." In this equation, entrepreneurs play a key role. "They are increasingly aware that to have a loyal and dynamic team you have to invest not only in salaries but also in the quality of life."

The disillusionment with the trade knows that it feeds on "the poorly paid days, the exaggeratedly slave schedules, the poor quality of life ... It requires a lot of dedication and passion." He believes that the profession has not been "dignified" or "professionalized". "If you don't have a passion for the profession, you end up being a mercenary for what you do." As a boss he tries to refine those points where he falters. "Now I am more conciliatory, I value the human part a lot, more than the technique, I give more opportunities, I try to grow the people around me, I have learned to delegate and every time I surround myself with better prepared teams."

Defects and virtues

With more than 200 employees and the responsibility of running five restaurants, he knows that many people depend on his decisions. "I have learned to know how to read my shortcomings and my virtues and those of others." Also to set and set limits. "In my twenties, my health shook because I didn't know how to digest or order things." Extreme sports, good nutrition, photography, spending time with your children or technology have helped you organize time and priorities. "For me coming to work is not a problem. You have to come to work happier than yesterday."

The maxims of the old hospitality industry are regarded with some suspicion. "That the customer is always right is a mantra that has accompanied us. The customer has rights but also obligations. Before it was very ingrained that by the fact of paying you had the right to everything. That comes in part from servility, which is where room service comes from." The limits are crystal clear and exercised. "I see a customer who touches the ass of a waitress and I get him up from the table and go home, if I don't report him. Or because he pays the bill I have to shut up?" At this point in the film, he hunts the profile of a customer as he crosses the door of the premises. "There are people who come to be seen, others want to go unnoticed... And you have to see that." All management, no matter how tense things get, "is approached gradually and without a shout."

In the last edition of the Michelin stars, it was taken for granted that the recognition came to Since 1911, the capital's undisputed temple of the best fish and seafood. It didn't. "We've never looked for the stars," he says bluntly. He stopped obsessing over the red guide in 2014, when he was going to fall the third in Santceloni and never arrived. "It was clear to me that I was going to stop working for and for." Their ambition is geared more towards customer experience. "In the end, the recognitions, the awards have to be the fruit of a work and not the consequence." The truth is that reservations do not stop growing, the level of customer satisfaction is maximum, "every day the letter is changed to 100%", there is no project like it: "A star is not going to give us more occupancy".

Since 1911. Nursery, 3. Phone: 91 545 72 86.