Little Spain Gourmet Market March 27, 2012 BACK TO MARKET BUZZ

Meet The Merchant – Alex Pages

The Farmers Market’s newest stall is Little Spain Restaurant and Gourmet Market.  Chef and owner Alex (Alejandro) Pages’ authentic Spanish cuisine recipes come from his family’s traditions in food related professions which started more than 100 years ago in Spain.  His grandfather was a waiter in the homes of Spanish royalty.  His father, meant to follow in that tradition, broke away from it when he was 20, becoming a waiter and working his way up to top management positions in sophisticated Spanish restaurants. Eventually the elder Mr. Pages opened his own restaurant, a country style inn in the back area of a farm on a busy, rural highway in the Catalonian section of Spain, near France.  There, Alex and his siblings learned the craft of cooking and the skills for restaurant management.  After emigrating to the U.S., Alex found his way to the Original Farmers Market with exciting plans for an addition to the Market’s international restaurants.  Mr. Pages opened Little Spain just after Thanksgiving, 2010.

We stopped by Little Spain to chat with him.

“I am so thrilled to be at the Farmers Market.  I don’t know how to describe it. This is a great opportunity and I feel I’m already part of the Market family.  It’s because everything is traditional here, not fast food.  Everyone here has something special about what they’re offering. And I’m offering my family’s cuisine.  I am so proud to bring our family heritage here.  It means so much.

I remember working in the kitchen when I was around two.  Those are my earliest memories, it is in my blood.  With a family business like this, it’s part of your life, even if you think you want to do something else.  And I did.

When I went to university, I studied sports education, it had nothing to do with the restaurant business.  Competitive sports became very important to me, but I would go back forth between sports and working at the restaurant.  When I was 25, I opened my first company, we managed events, we did everything.   We set up the parties, we did the marketing and advertising for the events.  But still, I was always back in the restaurant, learning more about food, cooking in different styles and cuisines.

But I got tired of Spain and decided to come to the U.S.  I’d become a professional sportsman and won the international title in Brazil for kite-surfing.  So I left the restaurant business for a while and went after sponsorships for my kite surfing.  On my way to Hawaii to meet with a sponsor, I had a lay over here in LA.  I stayed a couple of days and just fell in love with the city.  A couple of years later, when my sports career ended, I went back to Spain but I still wanted to come here.  So I left everything, my family and my business.

I was 32. If I stayed in Spain, I knew how my life would probably unfold.  But I also knew if I went somewhere else, I would find something different for my life.  So I came here, with my eyes closed, and stayed for three years on sort of an extended vacation.  I was on a tourist visa, I did mostly sports related things, I worked a bit but mostly I surfed.   I was just about to head back to Spain when I met my wife, who’s from LA, so I had a reason to stay.

That was 2008.  I looked for work, something in restaurant management.  I couldn’t find anything that was a good fit and a friend said I should open up a restaurant because he said I make a great paella. Well, that seemed like a possibility, so I looked for a location.  But everything was so expensive and I couldn’t find something that felt warm and comfortable.  The locations were in strip malls or in areas where we wouldn’t get much notice and I was abandoning the idea.

Then my family came from Spain for a visit and because I love the Farmers Market, I brought them here and we passed by an empty space.  My mother asked me why I didn’t see about locating here.  And I said I’d heard you have to be very special, unique, to be accepted here.  But I was curious, so I stopped by the management office.

They told me to submit my proposal but I didn’t have confidence it would be accepted.  Another year went by and my mother was back in LA and she asked me again, why I hadn’t tried for that space.  So I decided to try again, I filled out the application, told them what I wanted to do…and the NEXT day they called me in for a discussion.

That’s when we started working on the concept.  Stan (Savage, Market Manager) helped me so much.  He was my mentor and thanks to him, I’m here.

It was hard getting to the opening.  We did all the work ourselves, or most of it.  We built everything from the ground up.   It’s basically my design.  There were no walls, no floors, the floors were ripped out, we rebuilt all of it. 

My brother, who still works in the restaurant business in Spain, helped me develop the menu.  I want to bring the flavors I know best to life. We will introduce our American customers to commonplace Spanish dishes like black rice, octopus we cook in paprika and oil, raw egg dishes and a white gazpacho with garlic. I want our customers to know Spain through this cuisine.  My customers will help me with my English and I will help them learn Spanish cuisine.”

Little Spain’s hours are 9 AM to 10 PM (or ‘til closing) daily.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, and Spanish beer and wine selections are available.  For more information, call the restaurant at 323-634-0633.