One week before the end of the semester, a group of first-year university students gathers around a table at one of Segovia’s newest coffee shops. The owner, Ana Alarcón Rodriguez, brings a tray of fresh-squeezed orange juice clinking with ice and green glass straws.
The shop’s interior is painted from floor to ceiling in a beige color. There are potted plants and flickering candles on the tables, and a loaf of chocolate bizcocho rests on the counter.
When you step into YUM BAAAR, Segovia’s signature cobblestone streets and historical buildings feel worlds away. You might feel as if you’ve teleported to a trendy cafe in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.
“I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to do this,” Rodriguez said of her dream to open a vegetarian restaurant.
She is just one of many creatives transforming Segovia and leaving their mark on the small Spanish town of just over 50,000 residents
Carlos Redondo is the manager of IE University’s Creativity Center. Born and raised in Segovia, he moved abroad for a few years only to return to his home city, where he saw that opportunities were more abundant.
“Being brutally honest, it is easier to provoke change in a non-capital city because a place like Segovia has plenty of gaps and niches to work on. It is still a developing city,” Redondo said. “The benefits of Segovia lie in its size, its proximity to Madrid, and the fact of knowing everyone —solving a problem is usually just one phone call away!”
Leaving the big city for Segovia.
Rodriguez is a native of Madrid and got her degree in Advertising & Public Relations from the Universidad Europea de Madrid.
Her entrepreneurial journey began when she quit her job in advertising to embark on a new path in the food industry. While working at one of her favorite restaurants, Rodriguez brainstormed plans for her future and decided to launch a vegetarian restaurant that showcased her own style and personality.
However, it soon became apparent that Madrid couldn’t be the long-term home for her dreams.
“To make that in Madrid is very difficult because there are so many places and a lot of competition,” Rodriguez explained.
She and her boyfriend, Miguel, decided to move closer to his hometown of Segovia to search for opportunities there.
In February 2020, Rodriguez found a listing for a commercial space in a narrow street off of Plaza Los Espejos. An architect designed the interior structure while Rodriguez chose the decorations. COVID lockdowns delayed progress, but YUM BAAAR finally opened in July 2021, and Rodriguez’s dream came to fruition.
The power of word of mouth.
While Rodriguez’s day-to-day tasks mainly consist of managing the restaurant, planning the menu, and serving food, her university studies do come in handy when she is promoting the café or acting as the spokesperson for her brand.
Rodriguez initially predicted that the biggest source of traffic would be social media, but it turns out that at least half of her customers find out about YUM BAAAR through word of mouth.
“Here in Segovia, people talk a lot,” she laughs.
And talk they have. On Google Maps, YUM BAAAR boasts 19 glowing 5-star reviews from tourists and locals alike.
“Gem of a place where we least thought we’d find it.“
“A fantastic place to treat yourself.“
“Everything is delicious and made with love and it shows in the details.“
University students have also been finding their way to YUM BAAAR and spreading the word to their classmates.
“I heard about YUM BAAAR through a friend of mine at IE,“Annie Brodhead, a first-year student at IE University, explained. Her first visit was unlike anything she’d experienced in Segovia before. “My friend had talked about the iced latte, so I really wanted to get that. Since I’m from the U.S. and I’m used to having iced coffees, it just made me feel at home.“
Never the same menu.
Rodriguez’s favorite part of running the business?
“Cooking, for sure. Cooking, and planning what to cook.“
On Mondays, the cook she employs takes a day off and Rodriguez gets to work in the kitchen by herself. Despite the additional workload, she is far from stressed. Mondays are often her favorite day of the week.
The weekly lunch menu leaves room for experimentation and ensures that the ingredients are always fresh.
“We work with a lot of seasonal products. For example now, in winter, we have a lot of citrus, sweet potato, and artichokes.“
For their healthy vegetarian bowls and famous vegan bizcocho cakes, YUM BAAAR sources most of the basic ingredients from a vegetable farmer.
All of the dishes that she cooks are close to Rodriguez’s heart.
“It’s what I like to cook for friends and family to prove to them that vegetarian food is not boring. It doesn’t have to be without flavor. It doesn’t have to be just broccoli!” Rodriguez said.
Indeed, vegetarian and vegan food is rare outside of YUM BAAAR. Meat-based dishes are traditionally the star of Spanish cuisine, and the most famous dish in Segovia is cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig.
This week, the café served: baba ghanoush with crackers and pomegranate, a salad of spinach, sweet potatoes, goat cheese, and nuts, and bulgur seasoned with lime and garlic.
Last year, an IE University alum opened a health food restaurant called Selfish Poke, but there remain only a handful of options for this sort of food in Segovia.
“I really like their lunch options because they have a lot of veggie meals. Since I’m vegetarian, it can be hard to find good meals in Segovia, because there’s a lot of meat around,” Brodhead added.
YUM BAAAR has also become a favorite spot for students to bring their laptop and complete schoolwork in a comfortable environment.
“It feels like a place that I can escape to when I don’t want to be on campus or in my dorm room. Even when I have a lot of work to do, it feels less stressful to finish it when I’m there versus in my room,” Sophia Hurtado, a first-year IE University student, said.
Rodriguez and her boyfriend also own a kombucha company together. What began as a hobby experiment at home gained traction through Instagram. The two of them were approached by Madrid restaurants that wanted to serve their kombucha. Now, they manage a nano-factory outside of Segovia and produce almost 600 cans of Fuzz Co. kombucha per week.
It’s clear that Rodriguez not only has a passion for making healthy food enjoyable and accessible, but a knack for entrepreneurship, too.
While she feels that her restaurant-owning journey has only just begun, she does has a bit of advice to offer to aspiring young restauranteurs.
“Only start a business if you know that it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life. Of course, things can change, and that’s fine, but if you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life, you will make better decisions.”
(Featured image provided by Romane Prisant)