Spectrum Cafe: Doughnuts and Vegan Ethics in Spain

Spectrum Cafe: Doughnuts and Vegan Ethics in Spain

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Published:
April 5, 2021

Beagle is that rare breed of vegan restaurant that can spark quick agreement when vegetarians and non-vegetarians make meal plans together. For the restaurant and cafe in Sabadell, a city north of Barcelona, Spain, vegan isn’t just a food category. It’s part of the restaurant’s ethics-driven approach, which also emphasizes local and sustainable food. 

What does this perspective translate to? Catalan dishes such as coca catalan, a kind of flatbread often topped with eggplants, peppers, caramelized onion, garlic, parsley, and flakey salt. American-influenced dishes such as house-made burgers made from walnuts and seitan. A house-made (vegan) cheese plate. Sourdough pizza with a fresh take on blue cheese and apples.

And “everyone comes for the doughnuts,” says Maira Posse, Beagle’s owner and founder. She and her team, which includes her parents and younger sister, use organic flour and organic oil to make the doughnuts in a range of flavors. When COVID restrictions allow, Beagle also opens its cafe featuring specialty beverages like hot chocolate made with fair-trade cacao and baked goods — carrot cake, banoffee pie, classic chocolate cake — that can even be gluten-free or refined sugar-free. (On a personal note, I deeply regret leaving behind an unfinished slice of Beagle’s just-sweet-enough carrot cake on my 2018 trip to Spain. Future visitors: Always leave room for their cakes.)

Maira and I met years ago at Escuela Superior de Español de Sagunto, on the Campus Adventista de Sagunto, when she visited her younger sister, my roommate. I spoke with her for an occasional Spectrum Cafe series on vegetarian-friendly small businesses.

Question: What’s it like to open a vegan restaurant in a country that’s often known for its traditional meat dishes (and tortilla)?

Answer: It’s difficult. At the beginning, we didn’t specify that Beagle was vegan and described it as vegetarian. But, we didn’t use any animal products. We had only a few items on the menu, but the restaurant started to grow little by little, and before COVID, we were doing very well. Compared with smaller cities in Spain, people in Barcelona and Madrid are more open to the idea of eating a vegetarian or vegan meal, which made it easier for the restaurant to grow.

Soon, people began to come to Beagle not just because we’re a vegan restaurant, but because we have our own garden. We gave people more information about the food they were eating — where their potatoes came from, for example — and we included this information in the menus. We work with local farmers, and that helps our diners to trust our restaurant.  

What inspired you to start Beagle?

I studied philosophy in college, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do afterwards. I knew that I wanted to do something that benefited animals and the environment. When the opportunity to start a restaurant came up, I decided to go for it, with my mom’s support. For me, it was about having a healthy connection driven by moral principles with our restaurant workers and food.

Feeding people is something that we do every day, and I think that people have the right to know where their food comes from. It’s important to appreciate all the chains involved — who grows your food, how it’s grown, its impact on the environment. Of course, good food isn’t necessarily easy. The price is higher. But for me, it was all about the ethics of food — to help and support the environment. 

We had many difficulties at the start. For example, offering something that’s organic and local has its price. Not everyone is ready to pay this price, especially when it comes to food. If you think about buying a phone, you don’t mind paying, say, 100 euros or more. But people don’t necessarily want to pay a lot for food because it’s basic — you need to eat every day. 

Why is it worth paying more for food that’s local, organic, or takes other environmental ethics into account?

I think that some people are okay with paying more, and some people aren’t. What I’m trying to do is trying to make ethical food more accessible. So, what we do at Beagle is buy large quantities of foods. We installed an enormous refrigerator and freezer so that we can buy much more and save costs for our customers.

In this respect, we’re almost at a competitive level with a “normal” restaurant! A normal menu is about 12,95 euros (~$15.25 USD), and includes an appetizer, entree, and drink or dessert. Above all else, we’re offering food that’s more eco-friendly and locally produced.

We work with a co-op, and we also buy produce in large quantities from the co-op and make it available for sale to the public, because buying in large quantities makes it less costly for our customers. In reality, it’s a topic for discussion, because it’s true that the current economic situation might make it difficult for customers to purchase more costly produce.

But, if you’re for the existence of decent work that takes into account workers’ rights, it’s good to support the fruits of their labor. In Spain, there’s a big problem with the working conditions of the folks who harvest fruits and vegetables — awful working conditions, long hours under the sun, and more. Lots of people say that these working conditions aren’t fair. But then, many of them don’t want to pay more than 1 euro for a pound of tomatoes.

In Spain versus in the United States, the fruits and vegetables are often very cheap. Here, you can buy a pound of tomatoes for less than 1 euro, for 80 or 50 cents. If you really want harvesters to have better working conditions, you need to pay more. There aren’t other options at the moment. The government provides more and more help and money to farmers. But then, almost everything in Spain is subsidized, especially produce — I don’t know if the government can subsidize more. So, what needs to happen is that consumers who can need to pay a little more. 

What’s the vegan food scene like in Spain?

The vegan food that we prepare has a lot of Western and Mediterranean flavors. If you go to Barcelona, you’ll find a lot of Indian vegetarian food, which is delicious. But sometimes it’s possible to get tired of one type of vegetarian food. So, we offer foods that are more Western and Mediterranean. Now, in Spain and especially in Barcelona, I think people are increasingly more open to vegetarian food, especially the younger generations.

Vegetarian food has been much more integrated into menus in Spain. In general, there are now more milk alternatives and vegetarian meat alternatives at grocery stores. But it’s not like England, where you can go to a grocery store and find two giant freezers full of a ton of vegetarian options. We still don’t have this in Spain, not even in big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. Spain has a ways to go — but not too far.

Here in Spain, a typical breakfast is a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee. People come to our cafe and say, “You don’t have (regular) milk?” We respond, “No, but we have almond milk and many other kinds of milk.” They respond, “Okay, then I don’t want anything.” You have to accept this, too. Sometimes people don’t want a vegetarian alternative — they want to continue doing what they’re used to. And it’s okay. We go bit by bit. 

Who are Beagle’s customers?

Most often, locals from our town, Sabadell. Tourists generally don’t visit because we’re somewhat outside the center of Barcelona. Most of our customers worked in an office nearby and came for lunch every day, before COVID, because Beagle is great for a healthy lunch. Many of them commute longer distances, and don’t have time to prepare lunch at home before returning to work. 

Has eating at Beagle changed the way that any of your customers eat at home?

Yes, especially older folks. Some will come back to the restaurant with their families and their grandchildren, and they’ll tell us, “This is yummy! There’s no meat, no cheese, but we like it.” A customer who turned into a friend became vegetarian after meals at Beagle. She began to develop a better relationship with food, and started to care more about nutrition.

At Beagle, we have a lot of books for children and adults about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and vegan and animal ethics — people can read them in the restaurant or buy them and take them home. One best-selling book explores the relationship between the animal rights movement and feminism. 

What surprises people about Beagle?

Above everything else, that we have a folder with the location where our ingredients come from, such as our chocolate and coffee. Everyone can know where their potatoes are from, how they’re harvested. We also talk with the producers. People love this because it’s a detail missing in Spain. In other countries, like England, eating locally is more of a norm — people prefer it. But in Spain, this hasn’t really taken off yet. 

People are also surprised that our vegan food is more Mediterranean, not the Indian flavors that they’re used to in vegetarian food in the area. We use a lot of seasonal produce and legumes with different spices. We also try to respect the flavor of our ingredients. 

What have been some of your favorite moments at Beagle?

When there were a lot of people in the restaurant, and we had like 100 meal sets to serve, and were very busy in the kitchen — but able to pull it off. When the dishes turn out very well, and people are pleased, for me, that’s one of my favorite moments. I also love when people don’t want to leave. Sometimes, we’ve had to close the restaurant two hours late because people stayed to talk and chat for so long!

Even though I’m tired and sometimes completely exhausted, and I might have wished they would’ve left earlier I think no, it’s a good sign. It shows people are comfortable, and it’s good they’re here. For example, in the cafe pre-COVID, we had people who were here almost all morning. They come with their laptops, order coffees and pastries, and then, before they leave, they eat a sandwich. They return, fed, to their houses. They’ve breakfasted and lunched at my place. And I like that my restaurant is welcoming enough to encourage this.

What do you want people to take away from dining at your restaurant/cafe?

For me, the restaurant and the cafe are both an extension of my house. My family and I have painted the walls. We’ve designed the furniture. We don’t have a lot of money to do all of this. But what’s most important is that the people who come in feel good and cared for. I love taking care of people like this through food.

When I look out the store front, I see many kids looking at all the cakes and ice cream in the shop. They come to try our desserts because they’re allergic to eggs and/or milk, and they can’t eat in other places. At Beagle, they can safely eat whatever they want, which makes me really happy for them — seeing them head home very happy.

I think that it’s important for kids to occasionally be able to have a sweet. We’ve even had moms come in tearing up and thanking us because it’s been maybe seven years since their child with food allergies has been able to safely eat outside their homes. Here, kids with food sensitivities can try cookies, cakes of every flavor, ice cream, and more. We even make our own jelly beans. And nothing has any milk, eggs, or animal products whatsoever.

For cakes, we have a line of healthy cakes as well as raw cakes. All of our cakes use organic flour. And we also have a line of cakes for people who are gluten-intolerant. So, when you come to our cafe, you can enjoy a “normal” cake or one with rice, corn, or other flours. Our most popular cakes and pies are an apple crumble pie, carrot cake, banoffee pie — everyone wants that! — and chocolate cake. Basically, everything. When we close, we don’t have any cake left over.

Lately, we’ve been making something that’s not as healthy, but delicious: vegan doughnuts. Everyone comes for our vegan doughnuts! We make them with organic flour and organic oil. Of course, they’re deep-fried, but if you’re going to eat a doughnut — and everyone eats a doughnut once in a while — at Beagle, you eat a healthier one. We have raspberry doughnuts, white chocolate doughnuts, and more.

We try to have options — healthy, and not as healthy, something for everyone, because sometimes the super healthy dessert options are very expensive, and not everyone can fit them in their budget. For example, if we make a cake without sugar, it’s twice as expensive as a cake made with organic sugar. All our cakes are made in house with organic flours and sugars, and no additives. So, everything’s a bit healthier. 

What’s one moment that made you sure that opening Beagle was the right choice?

Since the beginning I have felt that way. 

What should a first-time customer order?

If you go to the cafe, order a white chocolate and strawberry doughnut, a chocolate and hazelnut roll, and a cardamom and pistachio roll.

If you go to the restaurant, I recommend ordering from the set menu. If you’re going to order à la carte, I recommend the patatas bravas and a burger, which are both completely homemade. I also recommend a kombucha — we make them ourselves as well as buy them from local producers. And a plate of homemade pasta or a cheese plate. For dessert: If it’s summer, you should order a strawberry crumble with homemade vanilla ice cream. And if it’s winter, try our chocolate-orange tart. 

Interviewer's Note: Since I spoke with Maira, Beagle has adjusted its offerings to focus on their cafe and bakery in response to the pandemic’s effect on small businesses. Visit Beagle’s Instagram page for the latest updates, and its GoFundMe page to help support the business. 

 

All photos courtesy of Maira Posse.

Midori Yoshimura is a content and communications strategist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Know of a veggie-friendly restaurant, cafe, or pop-up that you’d like us to know about? Reply in the comments, or email contact@spectrummagazine.org.

 

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