Eric van den Haute has been CEO of Café Sevilla since 1992. A native of Belgium, he spent several years learning the business in restaurants and catering companies in the south of France and San Diego. Under his leadership, the Spanish tapas bar and nightclub enhanced its entertainment program, expanded its restaurant into the space next door, and opened two new locations in Riverside and Long Beach. At the end of September, Cafe Sevilla in San Diego will close to move to a new location on Fifth Avenue.
Q: Café Sevilla has been at the same location on Fourth Avenue for 23 years. Why make a move now, even though it's only a couple of blocks away?
A: Our lease has ended, and moving to a new, larger building allows us to develop a bigger kitchen as well as provide more space for our guests. It is difficult to produce quality consistently when the pressure of a long line is always there at the door.
Q: Why are you so committed to remaining in the Gaslamp Quarter?
A: We were there at the very beginning of the renaissance of the Gaslamp Quarter. Our locals love to entertain themselves here, and the repeat convention business over the last 20-plus years would be difficult to abandon.
Q: What are the particular challenges of a business that combines a bar, restaurant and nightclub under one roof? How does Sevilla make it work?
A: We keep it separated as much as possible. The tapas bar and the restaurant is truly one clientele only, all into great flavorful food. As for the club, we consider it our restaurant clientele in 10 years -- no one leaves us.
Q: About 10 years ago you decided to take the Sevilla concept to other cities. What made you decide this would work in other locations, and how has it turned out?
A: It has turned out to be an amazing success, but we had to try it to find out ... that was risky. As soon as we are done with reopening and launching the new San Diego location, we intend to pursue new Sevilla locations. The whole management team is committed to growth; we love what we do.
Q: So many restaurants and bars are now serving small plates, shared plates, or other items that are comparable to Spanish tapas. Why is this trend so popular?
A: First, no one serves what can be called tapas unless they are a true Spanish restaurant. We welcome the imitators, they make us even more popular when guests find the real thing. In general terms, small dishes are the future. They offer many flavors in one dining setting.
It is easier for the guest to budget their evening out, so they can now come more often. Delicious things are better in small quantities.
Q: A lot of restaurants have gone out of business during the recession. How has Sevilla fared? What changes or policies did you have to make to survive?
A: First, listen to the guests and the staff. Keep pricing reasonable. Our focus always has been the locals; visitors are welcome extra business, but nothing is better than repeat local business.
The recession made us more successful. It forced us to question any and all practices: were they making the guests happy, were the guests likely to come back even more often, were they wooed, did we create positive word of mouth? If the answer was yes, we adopted those practices. Both sales and our bottom line are better than three years ago.
Q: What does the future hold for Sevilla?
A: New food, new drinks, new locations, and a team even happier to go to work every day.