In 2015 Orica-BikeExchange rider Christian Meier and his wife Amber established the cycling cafe La Fabrica in their adopted home of Girona. Having now followed this original venture with the opening of a second outlet, Espresso Mafia, Amber describes how the couple juggle being business partners with Christian’s commitments as a professional cyclist and what it takes to produce a good cup of coffee.
So where did the idea for La Fabrica originate?
In 2014 Christian had just finished the Tour de France, a career highlight for any professional cyclist, but I was suddenly questioning what I wanted to do with my life. The cafe was our retirement plan for when Christian stopped racing so we asked ourselves why not simply open La Fabrica a little earlier than we had originally intended. Once this was decided, we started to think in more detail of what we wanted our coffee shop to be. We use the term ‘built’ for our coffee in the sense that we control every aspect of the process. We import our own beans from ethical sources before Christian starts the roasting process in small batches. This way we’re 100% confident that we offer the best product to our customers.
What was on your shopping list when considering suitable premises?
We wanted to be in town but not in the centre of everything. Enough off the beaten track that people would need to come and find us. We wanted a terrace space and somewhere that had a certain look and feel. So when we saw this old carpenter’s shop it just felt right and the name was an easy fit.
And then the transformation began?
Inside there was absolutely nothing. No power, no water, just an empty shell of a building but we could picture the potential. And both Christian and I had a very clear idea of the aesthetic we wanted with the natural stone walls, copper tubing to carry the wiring and the dark wood of the counter.
You serve your coffee in quite unusual cups?
We were visiting Japan and noticed that all the soups and teas were served in cups without handles. I discovered that what you were drinking, as you held it in both hands, became a part of you. Almost a ritual.
Photo by @laura_vestto
You’re an enthusiastic user of Instagram?
Christian said at the beginning that he didn’t want to spend a single penny on advertising. He felt that a good product would, in itself, fulfil the requirement for marketing. I set up an Instagram account and before you knew it we had people arriving from Barcelona, holding their phones, pointing and asking for the drinks or food I’d included in my posts.
Do the other professional riders that call Girona home also visit regularly?
In terms of the professionals, we felt they would use the place because they want exactly what Christian wants. They’re living in Girona, training like he does on the local climbs and want a good cup of coffee before a ride. So we tailored our service to cater for this market with the bike parking, a water fountain to fill bidons, healthy choices on the menu.
Do they mind the attention they receive?
Fans come up to them when they’re at a race and it’s the same at the cafe. If you live in Girona and you come to a cycling cafe wearing your kit and on your bike, then you’re on duty. And it’s kind of cool watching them do their own thing. A case of ‘Celebrities are just like us!’
Photo by @themusette_cc
Starting a business, I imagine it’s rather a rollercoaster ride of highs and low?
The day we first opened was really special considering the challenges we’d had to face to get to that point. In terms of lows, we recognise that we have a successful model of business and we’re expecting competition in the near future so we’re kind of preparing for that. Christian’s the levelheaded one in the relationship and he’s very calm regarding this development. He quite rightly points out that, loyal as our customers are, human nature means they’re going to try a new place. But competition drives you, competition fuels you; it kind of forces you to evolve and be better.
Do you both react in different ways to these challenges?
I’m like, ‘What are we going to do? Life is over,’ but Christian’s there saying, ‘Everything will work out.’ Christian’s like the Zen master of calm.
Many cycling fans presume that living the life of a professional cyclist is a dream job. But in some ways you’re only as good as your last performance? There’s the threat of injury, the worry of fitness?
It’s got to be one of the craziest jobs in the world because you don’t clock in or out. It affects every single aspect of Christian’s life from how he sleeps, to how far he walks, to what he eats. And it’s a short career because it’s so hard on your body.
Regarding your life with Christian, is it difficult to maintain a relationship when he constantly has to leave for the next bike race?
By necessity you get into your own routine and all of a sudden a cyclist, your husband, comes in and has to eat at a particular time, can’t always help out in the home because he needs to rest. At one point we had to sleep separately because Christian was using an altitude tent. Initially I refused to let this get in the way of normal married life but would then wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. It sometimes feels like having an on/off relationship but with a forever commitment. And that’s where our business is important because we both share a passion for what we’re doing with La Fabrica.
Photo by @themusette_cc
Dan Craven describes Girona as the ‘capital of racers’. What is it about this city that has led all these professional cyclists to set up home?
Originally there was Lance Armstrong and the reasons he came are the same for cyclists today. It’s close to the mountains and the coast. You have nice weather almost the whole of the year; in the winter it might get cold but there’s little rain and no snow. Then you have the good food that’s very affordable; the cost of living is very low. You also have this little community of riders that ride and train together. It’s just super easy to come once and decide to stay.
Opening La Fabrica with your husband naturally means that he’s also your business partner. Is it difficult to switch off from work?
Yes and no. I find it’s fun to talk about it because it means so much to both of us. With cycling, for example, I never would because, try as I might, I didn’t really understand what it was to be a professional bike racer. With La Fabrica, it’s something we’re both passionate and knowledgeable about.
Featured image by Ian S. Walton.