By Elizabeth Bennett
If you'd visited any Spanish town 20 years ago, you'd likely have found a newsstand at the hub of the community. These roadside quioscos (kiosks) were once buzzing businesses but, as newspapers lost the fight to online alternatives, many have been forced to shut – 6,000 over the past 10 years, to be precise.
Pablo Pardo, an Argentinian who's spent the past two decades working in Barcelona's hospitality industry, spotted an opportunity: a kiosk on a busy street in his local neighborhood that had been shut for two years. The idea? Modernize the kiosk by offering quality independent magazines (like Courier) and specialty coffee to go alongside traditional newspapers. And so News & Coffee was born.
Pablo knew Gautier Robial was the perfect partner for the project. The pair had worked together on restaurants and Gautier's background in fashion buying and knowledge of strategy and finance complemented Pablo's operational skill set.
Spotting a unique opportunity
Inspired by the vinyl revival, they noticed the opportunity to breathe new life into something old. ‘No one has done this for newsstands,’ Pablo said. Having seen how tourism has changed Barcelona, they also saw demand for authentic, local-minded businesses. ‘It was a narrative that Barcelona was hungry for. Barcelona needs tourism, but tourism has certainly taken away a lot of its soul,’ Gautier says. ‘The kiosks encourage neighborhood living across generations.’
In terms of finances, it makes total sense. ‘It was a small nugget to digest from an investment point of view. The value of these places had gone down massively, so we could make money from it quite easily,’ Gautier explains.
Building the business
The first kiosk opened at the end of 2019 on Passeig de Sant Joan in the Eixample area of Barcelona. From the get-go, the duo applied the knowledge and attention to detail that they'd learned in big corporate settings. ‘We apply the same discipline of a 200-seat restaurant or million-euro project to a space of eight square meters,’ Gautier notes. For the first six months, this meant that the pair worked in the kiosk to really understand the day-to-day challenges of the format.
Involving other experts was key, too. Coffee expert Davide Datti came on board to advise and train staff (they roast their own speciality coffee locally), while artist Yaël Huppert was charged with curating the growing list of international, independent magazines.
Finding the right franchise partners
Expansion proved easy, as many kiosks were shut and crying out for new owners. One year after opening on Passeig de Sant Joan, News & Coffee opened a second site in Barcelona. Not long after, two more followed, then one in Valencia and one in Madrid in the second half of 2021.
As the brand grew, its co-founders decided to adopt a part-franchise model. Currently, they run three kiosks (two in Barcelona and the one in Madrid), while the other three (two in Barcelona and one in Valencia) are run by franchise partners. Finding the right people is the biggest challenge, as News & Coffee needs to offer a consistent experience across all locations. ‘We get one to three requests a week and we say “no” more than “yes”,’ Pablo says. ‘We need people with the right outlook. We get a lot of people wanting to invest from a coffee perspective, but coffee is a companion to magazines, the papers and the project,’ Gautier adds.
Often, these collaborations come about organically. For example, the couple that run the Valencia kiosk are behind one of the coffee magazines (SOLO) stocked in the kiosks.
The idea of growing faster can be tempting – especially given the availability of kiosks – but doing so could be detrimental. ‘We don't want to saturate the market and it's not going to work for every newsstand,’ Gautier says.
When asked about their biggest challenge, the pair say that ‘protecting the soul of the project’ was what they found hardest. ‘There are so many temptations to sell out, but this isn't why we started this business,’ Gautier says.
Thinking beyond the original model
To avoid saturation, they're leveraging their brand in other formats – music is the next step. Working with local DJs and musicians, they've started live-streaming from the kiosks as part of a News & Coffee radio channel.
News & Coffee on Wheels, a pop-up concept, has allowed the brand to reach new audiences and cement brand awareness at festivals and events that align with the business' aims.
Their biggest lesson? Being choosy about where they put their time, money and energy. ‘The brand is really clearly defined. We know what it is and it isn't. Scalability's limitless, but we need to put in the limits.’
A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.