At 100 Montaditos, the Spanish fast-casual sandwich chain, it’s all about the bread.
The franchise brand, which belongs to Spain’s Restalia Group, made its first foray into the New World in January 2011 with the opening of a restaurant in Midtown Miami. Since then eight more 100 Montaditos locations have opened in South Florida and one in Orlando. Restaurants in Weston, Boca Raton, Hialeah, Pinecrest and West Palm Beach, as well as several others around the United States, are expected to open soon.
From the beginning, the montaditos — small sandwiches on crunchy Spanish rolls that are baked fresh for each order — have been the stars.
So special is the bread, says Carlos Pérez Tenorio, chief executive of 100 Montaditos in the United States and Latin America, that the baguettes, artisan, soft crust and chocolate breads used in the restaurants are imported from Spain. Last year, 4 million units of the frozen, patented bread were shipped to PortMiami to supply the chain’s U.S. and Latin American restaurants. The trans-Atlantic bread run takes about a month.
“It’s one of our most important brand secrets,’’ said Pérez Tenorio as he sat at an outdoor table at the 100 Montaditos on Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile.
Other than taste and the fact that it is 100 percent natural, what makes the bread special is that the preshaped, precut loaves are popped into the oven right after an order is placed and baked in two minutes. “The bread is always oven-fresh and never reheated,’’ said Pérez Tenorio.
The 100 Montaditos brand was born in Spain in 2001, and there are now more than 280 restaurants that use 50 million units of the bread each year.
The Spanish baker reworked and reinvented the recipe so the bread would be quick baking and could travel. “We were looking for a bread that could travel the world,’ so the brand could be franchised worldwide,’’ said Pérez Tenorio.
The bread is also responsible for two-way trade between the United States and Spain. “Even if the bread is made in Spain, it’s made with American wheat. It’s the best quality,’’ said Pérez Tenorio.
About 20 percent of the food and drink that 100 Montaditos restaurants use to make sandwiches, tapas and salads is imported from Spain, including the bread, Manchego cheese, charcuterie — mostly Iberian ham, salami and chorizo, Mahou beer and wine.
The franchise restaurants use 24 products to create 100 different montaditos — hence the name.
A novelty is the chocolate bread laced with chocolate chips and slathered with whipped cream, almonds, chocolate spread, marshmallows and other toppings.
“We wanted all the desserts to be made of bread,’’ said Pérez Tenorio.
The imported Spanish wines may be purchased by the glass, but there’s also a bit of culture clash going on with the chain’s Spanish mixers, which marry Spanish wine with American soft drinks.
Mixing wine with Coca Cola creates a calimocho, combining beer with Sierra Mist soda makes a clara, and soda mixed with red and white wines and chopped fruit creates a drink that does a good job of masquerading as sangria.
As Pérez Tenorio offered samples, he explained that 100 Montaditos food is made to be shared in a setting that resembles a 19th century Spanish tavern.
“We think the American public is looking for new, fresh ideas. We can provide that different way of eating and find our niche,’’ said Pérez Tenorio.
Meanwhile, Grupo Restalia, which had revenue of 160 million euros ($216.3 million) in 2012 from its 100 Montaditos and La Sureña restaurants has big plans for its Americas region.
It hopes to have 40 franchised restaurants (the franchise free is $35,000 and the restaurant build-out is the responsibility of the franchisee) by the end of this year. Three are slated to open soon in the Washington, D.C., area; 12 are expected to be operating in Mexico by the end of the year, and there’s even one in the works in Davenport, Iowa.
The corporate headquarters for the Americas region is in Miami.
“Miami is the best entry point for the region because of the language and similarity of culture,’’ said Pérez Tenorio.
The trans-Atlantic bread crossing also is expected to be a casualty of 100 Montaditos’ growth. The volume of bread that the chain uses is such that the Spanish baker is in the process of setting up a bread factory in New Jersey to supply 100 Montaditos restaurants throughout the Americas.
“This is an example of a Spanish company that is generating trade growth and also investment,’’ said Mario Buisán, trade commissioner of the Embassy of Spain in Miami.