Running a restaurant is no easy task, and even less so when you have been awarded a Michelin star. Martin Eccius, manager of the restaurant Punto.mx admits that he is missing out on an extraordinary amount of time with his family, dedicating fourteen hours a day to what has become his passion his business. While he recognizes that he has “big bags under his eyes”, he adds that “the joy he gets from it is even bigger”. He acknowledges that the restaurant designed itself. Behind the bar, a few bottles of tequila hints at what may not have been apparent before: the essence of the restaurant is Mexican, but with a star.
HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
It all started with my arrival in Madrid. I came to do the MBA at EAE Business School in the city and, after speaking to people I knew, particularly with my partner Juan, we decided to set up the business. From a really young age, I had always been really interested in how a restaurant works and this was a special motivation for me. So much so that I left my job as Commercial Director of a plastics company to focus exclusively on this. This great step forward always reminds me of when I wanted to come to Spain, wanting to leave it all behind to start along a new path.
BUT STARTING A BUSINESS INVOLVES QUITE A FEW RISKS, DOESN’T IT?
Of course it does. And we faced pretty much any risk that you can imagine, even when we saw the business plan. Moreover, when we opened the premises, our suppliers told us that corn or spicy food would never be a success in Spain. Everything was stacked against us but there is nobody more stubborn than yours truly. I needed to find authentic Mexican food, like I was used to eating. It was like a Basque person going to Mexico and asking for a Spanish restaurant, only to find that it has Julio Iglesias playing in the background and tortilla de patatas and paella on the menu. It doesn’t represent you. Eventually, with 800 euros in our account, we opened the restaurant. After a lot of hard work and a great deal of luck, we have got to where we are today. But I still remember when the first neighbour walked in (he laughs).
WHAT WAS IT THAT ATTRACTED HIM AND ALL OF YOUR OTHER CUSTOMERS?
I think it is everything. Apart from wanting to show a side of Mexico that is not all borrachitos and margaritas that leave you with a sore head the next day, which is also great. Our value is underpinned by our daily work. The fact that I have lost 25 kilos should give you an idea of how hard we have been working. But it’s always the same story: these are the sacrifices that you have to make to reach your goals. Bear in mind that, long before you think about awards and other accolades, you have to make sure that your customers keep coming back. I can’t describe the satisfaction you feel when somebody says “I want to make another booking. I want to bring my parents here.”
AND THEN THERE’S THE COMPETITION…
I wanted to show the essence of Mexico, but not like your standard Mexican. It had to be a haute cuisine restaurant, defined by the values we talked about, showcasing these flavours and daring to fuse them with others as characteristic as almadraba tuna. We wanted to give added value to the things in my country and people have really gone for it.
BUT, FORMALITIES ASIDE, A MICHELIN STAR IS AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF ALL OF THAT HARD WORK, ISN’T IT?
I have to admit that we never expected such an award. In Madrid, there are thirteen or fourteen restaurants that have at least one star. Just choosing your restaurant over all of the others is recognition enough. It is true that the award has brought in a much more international clientele, but beyond that, it is a pat on the back for the team. When we found out, more than one of us broke into tears, me included. It is like Levante winning the Champions League, for example. I remember that the couple of hours after we found out the news, it was like I was walking around in a cloud. I couldn’t believe it. Nobody could.
AND IT SURELY MEANS BEING EVEN MORE DEMANDING
We can never forget that an award of this status is a great responsibility. For the customer that has waited four months to dine here, everything has got to be perfect. Being in the Michelin Guide means that you are constantly being reevaluated. Any demands that you may have faced before are now enhanced and even more so if you are already demanding of yourself to an ambitious degree. I think it is also a matter of what each person is like. You can’t let anything get in your way and, if somebody wants to contribute something interesting, they can come aboard. There are other factors, such as reinvesting in capital, human resources, training, networking, etc., that can really help if you want to achieve a set of goals.
HAVE PEOPLE GOT INVOLVED?
They have got really involved. Punto.mx has become a brand and, whilst I shouldn’t boast, we have appeared in all of the national media. Our chef, Roberto, has even achieved recognition in México, eight thousand kilometres away from his restaurant. It is an incredible achievement but it is not as if we have invented a vaccine or anything, we feed people and we do so to the best of our ability.
WHAT CONTRIBUTION HAS EAE MADE TO YOUR BUSINESS?
Firstly, in terms of settling in Spain, it was my first point of contact with my first group of friends in the country, and with people in general. In addition, as I mentioned, I was part of the second generation of EAE students in Madrid and everything was still being consolidated. I learned from that consolidation and, above all, I came to value the passion that Carmen Martos invested into driving it all forward. It is something that I took away from that experience that remains with me today.
YOU PLAN TO BRING SOMEONE FROM THE MASTER IN FINANCE TO JOIN THE RESTAURANT. WHY SOMEBODY FROM THE BUSINESS SCHOOL?
Probably because we have plenty in common and I know the institution, but above all because of the work they put into getting scholarships. Moreover, Carmen led us towards this choice of internship, based on the profile of each person. As a result, I thought about them more, now that we have grown so much and new needs are emerging in the company.
HOW ARE THINGS WITH YOUR FORMER CLASSMATES? ARE YOU STILL IN TOUCH?
We have lost contact but we still have a chat room that we sometimes speak in. We often laugh when I point out that they remember to wish each other happy birthday but not to let us know when they are in Spain. But, yes, we have always got on really well and, while you may get on with some people more than others, we have always been close.