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You never know what a vacation is going to lead into.
Just ask Catryn Davies and her fiancé, Seth Hickey.
Davies, 23, and Hickey, 27, went to Spain a few years ago on vacation — they went back a second time in 2017 — and they were hooked.
“We had a tentative plan to eventually move here, within three to five years, but after we arrived here for the second time to celebrate Catryn’s birthday (in 2017) the plan was expedited,’’ Hickey said via email.
“Catryn’s mother jokingly said to a friend who happens to work real estate: ‘Keep an eye out for a bar/restaurant that Seth and Catryn can open up here in Spain,’ and our friend responded with, ‘It just so happens, my friend is selling his restaurant and it would be perfect.’ We went to look at it the next day and everything just fell into place.’’
The couple returned to Canada and went back to work at the Woodstock Colonial Inn in Paradise from October to January to help fund their venture.
It was their experience there over the years that helped them get their new venture, titled Tierra Y Mar, which translates to land and sea. This name was suggested to the couple by Catyrn’s mother, Pam.
Davies started working at the Woodstock as a 16-year-old, serving the Sunday brunch, and worked her way up to floor manager, which taught her valuable leadership and business skills that would serve the couple well in Spain.
Hickey was also employed at the Woodstock, where he served as the bar manager for eight years.
His background as a bartender and Catryn’s experience in being in front of the main activity helped them. And it was also her ability to learn Spanish very quickly and interact with customers that placed her front and centre in the tapas restaurant.
So by default, Hickey became the cook.
“The Woodstock was a great place for us to learn the ins and outs of everything,” Hickey said.
“When we first opened we had seven tapas and poutine on our menu. In the past year we have expanded our everyday selection to over 40 different tapas and more than 10 larger dishes, three different kinds of poutine and a selection of homemade desserts,’’ Davies added.
But now on their own, they are free to do and try whatever they feel will be beneficial to Tierra Y Mar, and they have gone with traditional dishes, but also added a Newfoundland flair to introduce the locals to something new.
“Garrucha is a very traditional Spanish fishing town, so the locals were a little slow in coming around, as we are not the norm. But once they tasted our homemade food, they’re hooked,” Hickey said.
“The most popular dishes vary with the season, as the Spanish typically enjoy warm, rich meals in the wintertime and cold, lighter meals in the summer. That being said, our cod cakes, seasoned with savoury from Mount Scio Farms, has been a bestseller season-round.”
Catering to locals
Garrucha is a seaside town of about 6,000.
There is only one main road through the community, and Tierra Y Mar is competing for business from among 60 or more restaurants in the region.
“The weather is amazing. We’re seconds from the beach, the food is delicious, and the relaxed lifestyle is so nice,’’ he said.
“Garrucha in particular is special. It is a fishing port and the summer tourists give it the feel of a bustling city,’’ he added.
Canadians and Newfoundlanders are few and far between in the region, but the locals are getting acclimated to what the couple are offering. In fact, a few familiar faces have made their way in, including Hickey’s 82-year-old grandmother, who surprised them recently.
The couple said the location they have is not a prime spot, located more in a commercial area of town. But despite the fact their restaurant is on the site of two previous and closed-down locations, there seems to be a familiarity with the place and a number of residents have been coming in as regulars since they opened just more than a year ago.
Despite the fact they are thousands of kilometres from home, getting a business up and running in a foreign country was not as difficult as one would think, they say.
“We thought there would be a lot of challenges in that regard, but when they see that you’re genuinely interested in adding to the community it becomes a lot easier,” Hickey said.
“Catryn also has dual citizenship for the EU which really smoothed things out. She is now a resident of Spain, and mine is in the works,’’ he added.
In addition, sourcing items for the restaurant is easy and inexpensive.
Whether it is fruits or vegetables, meats, fish or day-to-day supplies, everything is reasonably priced.
“This is how we’re able to have a selection of free, homemade tapas to give our customers with their drinks,” Davies said.
Those who have frequented Tierra Y Mar have been kind to the couple as well, leaving a host of good reviews on Trip Advisor, most of them four- and five-star reviews.
“We love reading the reviews. It’s still somewhat surreal to us that we’re here in Spain, working in our own bar,” Hickey said.
“But reading the comments about our food and atmosphere makes it all that more real. And it makes every long workday so much more rewarding.”
The couple will return to Newfoundland in the fall for a few weeks, as they are coming home to get married, something that has been in the works for a while and which they are looking forward to.
But in the interim, they are enjoying the venture, working to make it better each day and becoming more integrated in the community.