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Ready or Not, We’re Open for Business
AlteArte is open for business as Sara takes a crash course in being a Spanish server.


Courtesy of Sara Wilson
David muddling a couple of drinks behind the new bar.


In Spain, you can spend a lifetime waiting for things to happen. It took more than half a year of waiting, for example, to get my residency—considered a really quick turnaround. Therefore, I was naturally worried about how long it would take to get the lease and papers done for our new business, AlteArte. Not having the papers was fine in the beginning since we had to close to rebuild the staircase and add our own special touches to the business, but when the business was ready to go and the papers weren’t, it became a problem. So, when the month of February drew to a close and we were still waiting for the lease to go back and forth between the landlord’s lawyer and ours (who just happens to be the brother of our old landlord in Torrevieja), we decided that we simply couldn’t afford to wait any longer. In Spain, sometimes you just have to stop waiting and start doing.

At the last minute, we made plans to open the last weekend of February. Never mind that we hadn’t yet signed a lease or that we technically had no legal right to operate the business. Pepe, the owner, had paid February’s rent and had amazingly handed us over the keys at the beginning of February to do with the business what we wanted. We figured we might as well try to make some money the last weekend of the month, but before opening to the public, we wanted to hold a private event—a party where David’s family and Pepe’s could see the end result of nearly a month of hard work. With only two days notice, we began spreading the word. David’s dad was working and couldn’t come, but David’s stepmom and her best friend would be able to drive up to Altea. We were fortunate that David’s mom, Luisa, was visiting from Paris that week so she could be there too. And Pepe told his parents about it.

Ready or Not, Open for Business
As the day of the private party rapidly approached, I started realizing that it wasn’t just the papers that weren’t ready. I wasn’t either! I had been so concentrated on getting the business up to par that I had forgotten about myself. If I was going to be serving customers and taking orders, I, too, needed to know what I was doing. Not only did I feel that my Spanish was still very elementary, but my knowledge of Spanish drinks was almost nil. I had heard the term cuba libra tossed around, but the shelves of alcohol were downright intimidating.

Desperately, I started asking David to teach me, but there was no time. It just wasn’t possible to learn everything I needed to know in such a short time. Before we knew it, Friday arrived and so did our guests. But, fortunately, Luisa was there and she gallantly took control even to the point that we left her to man the bar while David and I mingled. While Pepe’s dad gave wise business advice to David (Pepe’s parents are the owners of Hotel St. Miguel, a very established hotel and restaurant here with the best paella), Pepe’s mom talked to me about her past as an English teacher. Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any nicer, Pepe’s mom presented me with a beautiful necklace to remind me of this evening and Pepe’s dad told us that he was offering us the 100-plus-year-old mirror that we had bought from Pepe, but that we still owed him money for. I was deeply touched and felt in my heart that there couldn’t be a better way to kickoff our little business than with this perfect evening among such genuinely kind people.

Nevertheless, on Saturday, I was still very nervous but comforted myself with the thought that most likely business would be slow. After all, we had done no advertising, and, by that point, the business had been closed for nearly a month. Opening without publicity would give me a good chance to practice and learn the ropes a bit before things got too busy. Since we didn’t yet have a lease or our official business papers, we couldn’t order from any of the providers and only had the supplies that Pepe had leftover in the stockroom, so it was especially better if we didn’t have too many people in the beginning.

We prepared for the opening and, mere hours before opening the doors, Amparo, Pepe’s girlfriend, gave me a crash course in drink making. The only problem was that it was all very rapidly covered—in Spanish. I grabbed my notepad and starting jotting down: the most popular drinks, which glasses to use, when to put a lemon or lime. By the end I was entirely overwhelmed and really not sure whether I was ready for even one customer. But I had no choice. Now that our little business was ready to go, we really couldn’t afford to wait any longer—for the papers or for me. So on Saturday, February 28th, we opened for business. And we waited anxiously to see if anyone would come in.

Sara Wilson is currently working as a freelance writer and lives in Torrevieja, Spain with her husband. She has kept a record of her adventures living abroad which you can find here or on her blog: http://sarawilson.wordpress.com. Contact her directly at wilson.sara@gmail.com.

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