How I Started My Business in Spain

Lauren on Madrid Food Tour
Guiding a group of lovely ladies on a a food tour!

Today’s post won’t be a delightful sangria recipe or a drool worthy Spanish food destination— it’s about to get personal here. So if you’re reading for the pictures of pinchos and tortillas, apologies– we’ll hopefully be back to regular programing very soon!

3 years ago I had no idea what I was doing…

July of 2011 was an exciting month. I’d just celebrated a Spanish wedding (my own!) and was about to get legally married in the US at a second wedding at my parents’ home. But you want to know a secret?

I was overwhelmed.

Not with the wedding planning (my lovely mother took care of the American wedding details and I didn’t allow myself to get too wrapped up in our Spanish celebration), I was overwhelmed with the decision to seriously commit to someone and something, even though we both seemed to be at the same place, unsure of the future but sure that we wanted to spend it together.

My Wedding Bliss

I walked down the aisle, said “I do” and soon after escaped to Mexico for a gorgeous honeymoon I wished it would never end. But it did– and real life came knocking.

When we moved back to Spain we moved to Madrid immediately (and we were so poor that we moved from Cadiz to Madrid by bus– in two 9 hour trips!). I’d visited only once, but it seemed like the right place to be. Thank god it was. I’d resolved not to go back to English teaching (nothing against teachers, you are AMAZING people) but I’d long realized it wasn’t for me.

But reality was I was an illegal foreigner in Spain until my residency card cleared, and didn’t exactly have many options. Fast forward 7 months and I was still giving private English classes and also teaching at a school as a language assistant. I was miserable— exhausted and bitchy and even developed a nervous tick in one of my eyes (I was convinced I had some strange disease!).

Was I sick? Yes and no. I was horrified that I was doing something I disliked so much after working so hard in school to have career options. I was unhappy with my choices and lifestyle and it was affecting everything including my health and sanity.

So I quit my job.

I gave notice at the school I worked at and wrote them a very polite and sincere letter before leaving, pointing out some of the things I think they were really doing backwards (such as teaching the past tense COMPLETELY wrong). It felt so good to get it off my chest!

I was so lucky to have had Ale’s support during this tricky time. We were not financially stable at all (he’d also quit his job before getting married to start his own company) but he valued my sanity and health over a paycheck.

The journey into blogging

From the first day I moved to Spain in 2009 I knew I wanted to blog. And not just to keep my family updated on my affairs– I wanted to earn the big bucks (cue eye-roll). So I registered at blogger.com with the lovely domain Spanish Seduction. (Sidenote: I swear I deleted this monstrosity but apparently didn’t, if you click the link you will see it in all of its glory). Unfortunately, this creative curious title for a website sounded slightly pornographic, and the black background with red text didn’t help either. It was obvious I had no idea what I was doing.

But I wouldn’t give up so easily. I read and read, taking on HTML, SEO, DSLR photography, etc. I started Spanish Sabores soon after my American wedding, resolved to share my food and wine exploits with the world.

starting a business in Spain

But I wanted to travel

If it had been completely up to me I would have saved some money and slowly traveled the globe. I would’ve gone little by little, working abroad and ideally with food if possible. It’s still one of my dreams. But marriage is a commitment, and as much as my partner loves to travel too, it wasn’t the right time for him to take off.

Accepting that fact was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was used to doing my heart’s desire, and my heart wanted to wander. I’d torture myself reading other peoples’ blogs, jealous of the lives they portrayed online. But I’ve been able to come to peace with reality, with the knowledge that there will come the day when I too will wander– and for now our frequent short trips will suffice!

So I continued to trek along with the blog. I loved learning the ins and outs of creating a successful online presence, and still work very hard to continue learning and improving. Spanish Sabores grew, slowly, but each and every follower has come organically.

Leitza Navarra Spain
Visiting Navarra on a blog trip in 2013.

Starting a business in Spain

I never planned to start a business in Spain. That sounded too permanent. But it kind of just snuck up on me, and here I am, two years in business with Madrid Food Tour and now launching Devour Barcelona Food Tours. The idea of a food tour came while blogging, I stumbled upon a description of one and was immediately struck by how it would be the perfect job for me. In the US I studied business management and hospitality and tourism– I think I might be the only American I know actually using their college degree! I adore food and always have (my Italian-American roots are probably to blame), and now that I was writing so much about food, I had a strong urge to show people what I was writing about firsthand.

In early 2012 I began drafting business plans and researching non-stop. I didn’t know where this new venture would take me, and I was open to different possibilities.

Over the past two years building Madrid Food Tour has completely changed my life. My work has purpose, I’m constantly learning, I’ve met an amazing business partner and also taken my very own Alejandro on as a partner as well. I’ve worked with incredibly smart and funny tour guides, and had the sheer luck of finding some of the world’s best interns (thank you Jessica, Jennifer, Julia & Amy!).

Madrid Food Tour
On tour with two lovely New Yorkers in 2012!

I’m thankful for taking a risk.

This post has been a long time coming, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever write it. On the one hand I wanted to update any curious readers out there about what I’ve been doing these past two years (apart from traveling and eating of course!). I wanted to explain why my posts are so random and often spaced out. Running a business takes up so much time! But on the other hand I thought, no one cares! Soon I plan to turn Spanish Sabores into a more contributor based website, as I’ve accepted the sad reality that one person covering the amazing and varied cuisine of an entire country is a difficult feat. I’m excited by the prospect of taking on new contributors, like my first, Trevor Huxham, an American who loves Spain to death and has lived in Jaén and Galicia.

But first things first: introducing Devour Barcelona!

But before Spanish Sabores gets a huge facelift and posts start happening multiple times a week again, I have to focus. My partners and I are launching Devour Barcelona Food Tours this week and I am SO EXCITED about this new chapter. Starting a company in Madrid was one thing (and difficult enough) but expanding to food tours in Barcelona where I won’t be living on any permanent basis is scary yet amazing at the same time! If all goes well it’s a testament that hard work does pay off.

Best Barcelona Food Tour
Griselda and Rafa, two of the lovely people we’ll be working with in Barcelona. Photo by James Blick.

Difficulties along the way

I don’t want to make it seem like all of this has been easy. It’s not. I usually work long, 12-hour days where my only breaks are bathroom and some sort of sustenance. Saturdays and Sundays are work days too. I’ve gained weight from eating out all the time (someone has to taste test!) and from stopping my daily exercise routine. I’ve also lost a lot of my social life, and have gone from the person always inviting people for dinner and parties to someone who too often cancels plans because of work commitments or sheer exhaustion.

So no, it’s not easy, but I enjoy it and hope I’ll be able to say it was all worth it. If you’ll be visiting Madrid or Barcelona in the future, definitely check us out– we’d love to have you come eat with us on a tour!

Back to Spanish Sabores…

If you’ve made it all the way down here, thanks for reading. I’m curious, what would you like to see on the site in the future? Recipes? City guides? Travel tips? More personal posts? Let me know! And if anyone is thinking of starting a business in Spain, best of luck!

Comments

  1. What a lovely post! I saw so much I can relate to in it so it makes me happy to know you’re finally happy doing what you always wanted to do!

    Ellie

  2. Lauren!!! What an incredible story! I am so glad I took the time to read it. What a roller coaster ride you have been on, but you look amazing and are living an incredible life! I hope some day I can come visit and experience some of the amazing things you are doing, maybe Julie and I can have a girls getaway some day. I am glad all is well, and again, an amazing story, very proud of you and happy for you!!!! xoxox
    Nikki Novak

    1. Awww makes me so happy to read this comment! I hope you girls could come visit someday– we’d have so much fun 🙂 I hear you are both healthy and happy too, hopefully we can catch up one of these times I’m home!

  3. Hey Lauren! Thanks for writing this! You are so inspiring and your hard work is paying off big time! Maybe one day I will get going on a similar venture! Didn’t you used to give cooking classes, too? Never made it to one of those! But I was with you the first time you tried Cocido Madrileño!! You are such a sweet person, I wish you all the luck in the world with your new venture! And I love the idea for the future of Spanish Sabores! Un Beso, Jessica Robinson

    1. Hi Jessica! Such a long time– I still remember that first cocido! Thanks for the lovely comment. I did give cooking classes, I guess we could call that my first food business 🙂 Hope to see you again sometime!

  4. This is so inspiring. I was in Madrid for 18 months where my husband was studying his MBA at IE, how I wish I knew about your company would have loved to take a tour but hey its never too late.will visit soon fingers crossed.

  5. Lauren, having watched you from the very beginning of your Spain process, I am convinced this venture has absolutely been the best one for you!! Here’s to continued success, to expanding and to more delicious meals with you and Ale!

  6. Congratulations on Madrid Food Tours being so successful and the new Barcelona tours! I remember when I first met you in 2012 and it’s been amazing to watch Madrid Food Tours grow.

  7. Lauren, Congratulations on your hard fought success. My wife and I took the Madrid food tour in 2013 and absolutely loved it. We took a food tour in Barcelona that same year which did not even come close to what we expected after such a great experience with you. Devour Barcelona Food Tour is going to be a big hit just like Madrid Food Tour. Can not wait to get back some day soon to give it a try. All the best!

  8. Thank you so much for this post! What an inspiring story. I especially liked what you wrote at the beginning about you and your husband. Your comment about being unsure about the future but sure about wanting to be together was very touching to me. My boyfriend is Costa Rican and we know that at some point we may have to make a similar choice. Reading what you wrote gives me more validation and confidence about moving forward with him.

    I am also very impressed with your journey and your persistence in starting your own business. I wish you nothing but continued success!

  9. Hi Lauren! I always enjoy reading your posts. My mother is from Sevilla and my dad is American. I lived in Spain until I was 10 years old and have visited family a few times since living in the U.S. I love my roots and the Spanish culture is in my blood. My husband and I hope to move to Spain eventually and your story inspires me. The types of posts I enjoy reading about are the hidden beauties of Spain, outside the tourist hotspots. Like the town of Valdepeñas… a hidden beauty filled with vineyards. I also love authentic dish recipes and cooking tips! Best of luck to you and I look forward to following your journey through the country that will always hold a special place in my heart.

  10. Lauren, thanks so much for writing this post! I follow a number of blogs that include articles on regional food specialities and where to eat in in various places around the world, but it’s the personal stories behind the amazing people who struggle and then make things happen that really pull me in. I’m so happy you have found your niche in Spain, and I’m sure it’s only going to grow and develop and continue evolving!

  11. You are an inspiration. I have been following your blog since 2011, when I began working as an auxiliar, and I have followed your work consistently ever since. I hope one day to be pursuing my passion, as you are. It’s amazing that you made it happen. To have a 5 Star rating on TripAdvisor is nothing short of incredible!

    I will be in Madrid with BEDA next year and look forward to experiencing one of your tours!

  12. This blog post reminds me so much of my own experience in Spain, except that I ended up moving back to the US. My job wasn’t particularly inspiring, so I learned as much as I could about SEO, and now that’s what I’m doing full-time 🙂 Anyway, thanks for sharing your story, and good to hear that all that hard work is paying off. ¡Ánimo!

  13. I pretty much knew this whole story but it was so great to read it all compiled in this post! Amazing accomplishments!!! You should be so proud; I know I am!

  14. So cool to read about your story, Lauren, and I’m excited to see the new direction you’re taking Spanish Sabores in. Looking forward to continuing to contribute to the blog in the future 🙂

  15. I personally admire you! I did the same moving to the US. I had everything (a good salary, a job in a big consultancy and a established life in Madrid), but I wanted a change. I really wanted to start my own business and to give more importance to El Boqueron Viajero. Now I’m so happy of having made this decision and my company and EBV are working better than never. I wish you the best of luck in my country.

  16. Hi Lauren

    Well done! It is tough, change is tough but are doing it!

    I am actually giving up my life and career for love in Madrid this September so I am making change too. I come with 15+ years of hotel & catering experience so if you are needing any (unpaid) help, I would love to be involved to help me on my new path!

    Regards
    Alan

  17. Great post… very inspiring for me. You’re living the life I want! There is definitely some envidia here, mostly sana 😉 It’s great to hear that your hard work is giving you results — you deserve them! I hope some time when exhaustion hasn’t overpowered you to get to see you again some time in Madrid. Besos!

  18. Very inspiring, I know it took a lot of hard work and many headaches to get to this point but in the end you followed your passion. As they say what is a life without passion. I wish you continued success.
    Next time I’m in Spain I will be sure to book a tour. 🙂

  19. Hi Lauren! Thank you so much for this inspiring post. I, too, an am American girl, soon to move to Madrid to start my life with my Spanish better half. My current way in, or so I think, to legal employment is going the auxiliar route until I can get a legal work permit through a marriage or a civil union. Knowing that you were able to start that way and eventually create your own success on your own terms is the most amazing piece of news I have heard since I left Spain in June. THANK YOU. I hope to meet you when I’m in Madrid. Please email me, I would love to continue this conversation.
    Un abrazo,
    Kacie

  20. Hola! I like your website & posts. I made the zanahorias yesterday, muy sabrosas! I lived in Sevilla many years back & Spain has been an obsession for many years. Keep writing
    Buen provecho, Jean

  21. Congratulations for writing such a inspiring story always enjoy reading your posts.I lived in Madrid until I was 18 years old you remind me my old days in span.I always Looking forward to continuing to contribute to the blog in the future.

  22. Hi!

    I just stumbled on your blog whilst reaching the possibility of escaping rainy Britain (still in post holiday gloom following a gorgeous time in Tossa de Mar)
    Are you still in Spain? X

  23. Hey Lauren,

    I was curious if you had a blog post that was specific about finding a commercial space in barcelona. I was hoping it would be as simple as finding an agent, finding a place, and then some paperwork. I want to lease a small commercial location fro my business. However, I started digging into it a little deeper and I came across someone who said that there is a fee to get a commercial license and it can be tens of thousands of euros!! He said a pre-existing business will “transfer” you their license. Is this something you are familiar with? If so, can you explain it to me and talk about your personal experience?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi there — I have no idea about this process, but the “transfers” are definitely common. Most of the restaurant listings for spaces are “transfers”. My advice is to hire a good “Gestor” or “asesor” to help you through all of this.

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