They said it wasn’t possible, that no one would be interested in a restaurant serving Peruvian food in London. Ceviche founder Martin Morales isn’t the kind of person to be held back by that kind of thinking and has created a brand steeped in culture, heritage and great food.
“Aqui cocinamos con amor.” Translating as “here we cook with love”, the motto underpins how each part of Martin Morales’ operations work. Moving beyond the way food is prepared, it drives how restaurants are set out, the way customers experience the brand online and in the strong teams that come together each day.
With five London restaurants spanning the Ceviche and Andina brands, a string of cookbooks, a record label and an art gallery, Ceviche is not your typical hospitality business – but that’s what makes it more interesting. Morales has leveraged parts of an eclectic career which has seen him work at Apple, Disney and EMI to shine a light on a nation which he believes was rather misunderstood when he opened the first Ceviche restaurant back in 2010.
“I remember people thinking I was crazy. Most people didn’t even know how to spell Peru let alone know where it was, some thought it was in Africa” he said. “People’s knowledge of it ranged from Machu Picchu and llamas to remembering that Scotland played Peru in the 1978 football World Cup.”
What inspired Morales most was the blank canvas he was able to work from. There was no expectation of what a restaurant serving Peruvian food and drink would be like. Having moved to the UK around ten years-old, Morales knew how people in Britain interpreted Latin America – think Ricky Martin and mojitos. “I wanted to be a new type of language and tell a story of Latin culture that would stand out – the old bits were boring,” he added.
His innovative approach to building a hospitality brand comes across in a myriad of ways. Walk into one of the Ceviche or Andina restaurants and every sense is targeted, an almost “five dimensional” customer journey, as he describes it.
“My approach is very different to that of a chef or traditional restauranteur. When you walk into our Ceviche in Soho there is a positivity, a brightness – the music is uplifting. Our kitchens are all very open, breaking down the barrier between customer and chef.”
The story of Peruvian culture presents itself in different ways depending on the Ceviche or Andina restaurant you visit. Morales’ site in Shoreditch is a homage to music from Peru and has over 2,000 seven inch records showcasing anything from punk to funk. Eat in Soho and the Latin American country’s textile history is brought to life – bright colours adorning every wall.
It’s all about maintaining a laser-like focus on the company mission, one written as a collective team. They want to enrich people’s lives with excellence in Peruvian food, drink, arts and culture. This helps all facets of the brand, from restaurants to the art gallery, stand out in a fiercely competitive industry and reflects the kind of experience modern day consumers want to have. It’s not just about the quality of the food or drink, hospitality businesses need to create memorable experiences that encompass elements such as music, service, provenance, history and communication.
As a CEO and founder there are hundreds of questions circulating through Morales’ mind every day as he looks to maintain the high standards he has set himself and continue to innovate in a way that both attracts new customers and keeps existing ones coming back. He’s thinking about improving staff welfare and motivation levels. At the same time there’s questions of how the business communicates with its customers and whether it’s staying up to date with the evolving nature of marketing channels.
“We are constantly challenging ourselves to make sure we are learning, otherwise we’ll just become an island with no visitors,” he commented.
Hospitality, Morales believes, has an advantage over other parts of the business landscape. “We’re an industry of startups and entrepreneurs, whether they’ve started a food truck or are a pub operator. What’s wonderful is that we’re very united and help each other. Having worked in so many different areas and industries this is the kindest there is, and the most collaborative. There is competition, but it’s not vicious and cut throat – at the end of the day we’re all only as good as the last dish we served.”
For hospitality businesses to thrive, Morales believes operators need to do as much as they can to get out there and learn from their peers. Experiencing how others are guided by the one thing that really drives them, the real USP, is how he’s been able to stay true to his own mission.
Martin Morales will be sharing his story and his tips for being innovative as a hospitality business at our next Hospitality Masterclass, taking place at The Headland Hotel in Cornwall on 17 June 2019. Secure your tickets here.