Nico Fraile Taboada, Co-Founder Of Pisco Bar And Concubine KL, On Why Direct Delivery Matters
A rare bird in the food and beverage industry, Nico Fraile Taboada sees little distinction between his 'customers' and 'friends' or 'work' and 'home'. When we first met Fraile Taboada, we mistook him for one of Pisco Bar's most popular customers, not realising he was one of the founders. A man of dichotomies, Fraile Taboada can either be found partying at his own bars (this was well before the pandemic, of course) or spending time with his two adorable sons at one of Pisco Bar's Lazy Sunday sessions. A family man at heart, the Spanish expat from Madrid, who calls Malaysia his second home, has stuck around long enough to weigh in on different aspects of life in Southeast Asia.
How did the dining scene change for you in 2020?
2020 has been a hell of a rollercoaster ride for the food and beverage industry. Firstly, the uncertainty about the severity of the pandemic changed patterns of social conduct and consumption while the constantly changing SOPs made planning almost impossible. In essence, the industry has been put under lots of stress and required all players to rethink their business models.
Both Concubine and Pisco Bar kept busy with deliveries during lockdown. What did you learn from the experience?
There was a significant increase in deliveries, especially with regards to specific dishes, like the colourful tacos at Pisco Bar and the Asian-inspired burgers at Concubine. However, we can't forget that deliveries will never compensate for dine-in closures.
Focusing on deliveries helped our team stay motivated and, most importantly, employed. It also allowed us to create new dishes, dishes that would arrive in good condition at our customers' households. Our chefs were really focused on that: developing new dishes and tweaking existing ones to offset the fact that the food would presented in boxes and not on nice servingware.
TATLER TIP: During the Tatler Dining Awards 2021, Concubine was crowned with the Adaptability Award for introducing innovative dishes for delivery at the peak of the pandemic.
What unexpected opportunities have risen from the pandemic?
Having the time to crack our heads has given us the opportunity to reach a broader customer base, explore catering options, and even collaborate with a theatre company to introduce interactive dinning experiences.
How have you been making the most of virtual spaces during the pandemic?
Despite not being able to meet our regulars and friends in person, we've tried to keep them engaged. To that purpose, we have organised a series of online DJ sessions, cocktail classes, quiz nights and the aforementioned interactive dining experiences whereby professional actors engage with our customers as they are having their dinner. Although they require a lot of planning from our side, these efforts also help to keep us amused during the worst parts of lockdown.
Related: CK Kho, Founder Of Coley And Pahit, On Why Virtual Drinking Trends Won’t Last
How did the pandemic impact your cooking and eating habits, whether at home or at the restaurant?
In Asia, where the eating culture prompts people to dine out more frequently than in Europe, it's been strange as people have been stuck at home and end up searching for new recipes online.
We don't say grace before dinner anymore; instead, we use those five minutes to take pictures of our food and to post them on Instagram to feel connected in some way or other.
Fortunately for the industry, we're all social animals and prefer to be close to our friends, so as soon as the SOPs loosen up, people return to restaurants.
How do you think F&B in Malaysia has fared compared to, say, your birthplace of Madrid?
I confess to being a big complainer, but we are definitely in a much better position than in many other parts of the world. Nonetheless, many F&B players in Malaysia are still struggling to stay afloat and unfortunately, unlike Europe, there aren't any rescue funds available, so we are basically on our own.
How can consumers lend a hand besides, well, continuing to 'consume'?
We're among the privileged restaurants that attract regulars who have been supporting us through the worst of the pandemic. But we live times of consolidation, where small players are struggling to compete with bigger corporations. E-commerce giants are growing at the expense of traditional retail.
In order to excel, we need to offer attractive products on top of excellent service, but we also require customers to understand the importance of buying small and local instead instead of from hypermarkets or superstores. When ordering for delivery, do it directly from the restaurant instead of third party suppliers who charge abusive commission.