Is America ready for montaditos?

The specially baked rolls filled with 100 ingredients fuel the success of 100 Montaditos, a chain of 207 cafes throughout Spain. And now they’re open in the U.S. and primed to expand: One outlet opened in Miami in January 2011, a second is due there in September, and three are planned for Miami by year’s end.

Expansion continues in Florida in 2012 with 15 new outlets in Orlando, Gainesville, and Jacksonville.

In Spain, 100 Montaditos launched in 2001 and doubled its number of outlets in the last five years. The Restalia group is franchising the concept in the U.S. and says it can grow faster in the U.S. with its population of 312 million people, six times that of Spain.

Since montaditos are bite-sized sandwiches that cost about $2 each, company leaders expects American diners to order three, four, or five of them. Add an inexpensive $3 Spanish beer, and they’ll spend $10 to $14 at lunch or dinner.

Its serving style is fast casual with no wait service.

“People are having a hard time making ends meet,” says Mauricio Paschold, its Miami-based director of international market development. Diners are looking for an inexpensive, healthy meal, and 100 Montaditos thinks it can fill the void.

Recognizing that American tastes are different, its owners adjusted the menu.

Besides the traditional smoked salmon, vegetarian, cheese montaditos, it introduced a pulled pork and burger montaditos. Even the pulled pork sandwich with Spanish brava sauce and sprinkling of cheese exudes a European flair.

Surprisingly, Paschold says authentic Spanish montaditos, tortilla Espanola, and Spanish ham have been selling well.

One Dollar Wednesday’s, where montaditos cost $1 throughout the day, should attract diners who want to taste this new cuisine. Hip to American ways, Paschold says, “It’s not just happy hour; it’s happy day, all day.”

What makes montaditos special is the made-to-order crunchy roll, baked fresh for each diner. “It’s not a soft, cold bun,” Paschold says.

In the U.S., 100 Montaditos will expand by franchising, except for the company owning one or two training outlets in New York and Miami.

Depending on location, investors in Florida will spend a minimum of $300,000 to $600,000 to construct and open an outlet. Cafes in shopping malls cost more because of certain guarantees, and fees will rise when 100 Montaditos arrives in pricey Manhattan.

Miami was chosen as the launching pad because of its large Latino population and multicultural mix. Outlets are open from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. and include music, marble tables, and a kind of exotic Spanish atmosphere that will help attract its target diners, aged 21 to 35.

The Restalia Group has ambitious plans of opening 4,000 outlets in the U.S. in the next five years, a growth rate faster than Starbucks’ expansion in the mid-2000s. Questioned whether that target is realistic, Paschold says, “There’s nothing wrong with dreaming.”

Facebook and social networking serve as other ways to connect with its clientele. 100 Montaditos employs community managers on Facebook who answer customer responses pronto.

Restaurant consultant Marco Scanu, who is based in Coral Gables, Florida, and is familiar with 100 Montaditos, expects it to do well in multicultural cities. But he says, “Look at their menu-tortilla Espanola, duck mousse, and chistorra (Spanish sausage). Does it look like something people in the heartland will embrace?”

Time will tell whether Americans add montaditos to their diet.

By Gary M. Stern

Consumer Trends, Emerging Concepts, Growth, News, Operations, Pizza, 100 Montaditos