Spain’s latest economic casualty: One of its top restaurants

Sergi Arola detects hints of fruit, notes of earth, and traces of the tax man.
Sergi Arola detects hints of fruit, notes of earth, and traces of the tax man.
Image: Reuters/Susana Vera
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A mere six restaurants in Spain’s capital city, Madrid, carry the distinction of two Michelin stars, but that club may be getting even more exclusive.

Yesterday (Tuesday), amidst the busy lunch session at Sergi Arola Gastro, tax officers sealed off the restaurant’s dining area and cocktail bar. Despite being one of Madrid’s most sought after tables, Gastro, it appears, is also one of its most indebted. Chef Sergi Arola and his wife and co-owner Sara Fort owe the Spanish government (Spanish link) some $400,000 in back taxes and social security payments. Though they had agreed to cover the debt in smaller monthly payments, the tax agency issued a demand for the full amount, which came out to roughly $192,000. No payment, no lift on the embargo, they told Arola and Fort.

Sergi Arola, who happens to be a former apprentice of world-renowned “molecular gastronomy” chef Ferran Adriá, first opened Gastro with his wife in 2008. But Spain’s current economic environment has pinched the country’s once flourishing restaurant business, and especially its most daring dining experiences, Arola told local Spanish radio station Cadena SER. Despite cutting costs and asking all of its 13 employees to take salary cuts, Gastro’s debt still continued to mount. “Unfortunately we set up in 2006, when we thought Spain was a ‘first division’ country, and that this was a land of milk and honey,” Arola told the radio station. But times have changed. “Having a gastronomic restaurant in Spain is extremely expensive.”

That’s the sad state of Spain’s economy right now: Even a two-Michelin-star restaurant run by a former Adriá apprentice can’t sustain itself.