La Fabrica Girona: Where everyone knows your name
Amber and Christian Meier opened La Fabrica slightly more than two months ago in their adopted European home of Girona, Spain. Christian, a professional cyclist for Orica-GreenEdge, is something of a coffee aficionado while Amber is best described as a host extraordinaire – gifted with the ability of warmly making people welcome. They’ve combined their interests and strengths in their new venture, which has proved successful from day one as professional cyclists and locals alike flock to the cycling-friendly café in the Barri Vell (old town) neighborhood.
It’s clear that their customers agree with the La Fabrica tagline: “Life’s too short for bad coffee” but the good brew is not the only appeal. The space has quickly become somewhat of a community meeting point and the only coffee shop in town that specifically caters to the growing cycling crowd. There were already dozens of reasons for cyclists to visit Girona – and now there is one more.
I’m sitting next to Amber Meier around a gorgeous communal table at La Fabrica Girona. She had been behind the bar, handing out coffee and smiles, when I entered the door of the newly opened space. She correctly guessed I would order a chai latte and insisted I try a chocolate hazelnut espresso PUREBAR, one of the four flavours on offer. Amber has been making the bars as ride food for her husband, professional cyclist Christian Meier, for years.
It had long been Amber and Christian’s retirement plan to open up a café in Girona. They always thought they would wait until Christian’s cycling career had come to a close before throwing themselves into their second career. But for Amber something shifted after Christian raced his first Tour de France. Always content to support Christian’s ambitions, Amber suddenly felt the need to pursue dreams of her own.
“Christian had just done his first Tour de France,” Amber explained. “It was the highlight of his career. It’s something every cyclists dreams to do – the Tour – and Christian had done it. He came back, and we had a bit of time to relax and it just hit me.”
“We had been here for eight years, and the focus has always been on Christian’s career,” Amber noted. “Now I needed something for myself. It was the first moment in eight years that I said: ‘I can’t do this anymore. We need to figure out something for me.’ ”
The conversation took place at one of the many beaches that dot the coastline of the Costa Brava. Amber went for a swim. When she came back, Christian was ready to suggest a solution.
“I came back from the water, and he said to me: ‘What if we do the café now? Instead of waiting until I retire, what if we start it now?’ We spent three or four hours sitting at the beach going over every single pro and con,” Amber explained. “When we drove home, we made the decision that we were going to do it.”
Seven months later, La Fabrica Girona opened its doors for business.
“That’s seven of months of putting something into building this every single day,” said Amber. “We knew if we were going to do it, we had do it right.”
There were three major considerations that Christian and Amber would come up against in the early stages of getting the café off the ground. As a professional cyclist, Christian was still required to train full-time and often travelled for races and training camps; yet, he wanted to be involved in every aspect of the business.
“It was pretty easy to keep him involved during the off-season,” said Amber. “Initially, it was a lot of internet work. It was research opposed to physical labour. He was still able to train, but we knew it would be harder during the season, and we talked about that a lot. How would we coordinate his schedule with the café?”
There was also the not-so-small mater of setting up a business. In a foreign country. In their non-native language.
“We had to start from scratch in terms of figuring out how to open a business,” explained Amber. “We’re not Spanish – Christian is German and I’m Canadian. It’s a huge thing to set up a business in your home country, but setting up a business internationally – that was a huge hurdle.”
The third major consideration that Amber and Christian faced in the early days was how to make the business their own. Multiple times, the Meiers were approached by potential partners who suggested they go at the café together. Every time they decided that they would rather keep the business as a Meier-only venture.
“We struggled with that decision,” said Amber. “It could have been very useful to have someone else to share the financial and business-related responsibilities with, but we decided that we wanted to do it with just the two of us. We had such a clear vision of what we wanted.”
They’ve divided and conquered since the start, with Christian’s coffee obsession fuelling key parts of the vision. Amber’s strengths were put to use prior to opening day in the marketing and managing. She also tackled the endless mountain of paperwork.
“Christian’s coffee obsession started around seven years ago,” Amber noted. “He appreciates the process even more than the product. A great deal of people and a huge amount of time go into making coffee. The end product from bean to coffee in a cup can change greatly depending on the process that happens from start to finish. For Christian, it’s this whole world that he gets to explore.”
“There’s also this appeal around coffee as a universal language,” Amber said. “You can go to Japan, you can go to New York, you can go to a tiny corner in the middle of Italy and coffee can become your common language.”
While Amber appreciates Christian’s passion for coffee and has quickly gotten up to speed in beans, brews and latte art, the café has always been about far more than the menu for Amber.
“I love the atmosphere of a good café,” Amber explained. “I love the buzz at a busy coffee shop. A good cup of coffee at a good café can be the highlight of someone’s day. It can turn their day around. It can give them something that they can’t find at home. I love the idea of being this for people. I love meeting people and introducing people to each other. I want to provide people with a sense of community.”
Amber was a teenager working at a coffee shop when she met her future husband. Christian had yet to turn professional. He had been out training when he stopped by the café where she worked for a post-ride coffee.
“We met in a coffee shop. We fell in love in a coffee shop. For us, a coffee shop would always be about bringing people together,” Amber said.
With that objective in mind, there were very specific needs for the space. They looked for something in town that was cycling friendly and offered indoor and outdoor seating options. They wanted a space with a lot of character that felt warm and welcoming. This would not be a space where people quickly popped in and out. It was a space for people to linger and socialise.
“We had a vision in mind, and when we saw the space we knew,” Amber said. “We knew. When we first saw it, it was completely gutted. There were no lights. There was no electricity. The floor was raw concrete – it still is. It was as barebones as it comes.”
“Then we heard the story behind it,” she added. “It used to be an old carpenter shop over 100 years ago. We always knew we would call the café ‘La Fabrica’, which means ‘the factory’ in Spanish. The fact that this was almost an old carpenter factory, and we were going to making it into a coffee factory – all the exposed brick, the high ceilings. We saw it, and we knew we needed to have this space.”
Looking around the room now, it’s hard to imagine the gutted space Amber has described. The café is full of light and love, with every detail clearly carefully attended to by the owners. Greenery injects life. Exposed copper, concrete floors and an abundance of different varieties of wood along with the high ceilings, brick walls and cobbled stone entryway makes the open room feel large and inviting yet still intimate and cosy.
“For us, a lot of different things at the café are about the small details that we don’t necessarily expect people to notice but we take pride in knowing they’re there,” explained Amber. “It’s the small hand-stamped portafilter logo on your to go cup or the hand-printed message on the bottom of your cup when you finish your drink. It’s a menu board that we hand-stained and screwed together and the metal here on the front of the bar.”
“We’ve carefully and passionately made every single choice there was to make,” Amber added. “Nothing is here and nothing was approved and nothing got done without our involvement.”
Cycling photos shot by Kristoff Ramon grace the walls. Cycling books and magazines are scattered around the tables and shelves. The television in the back of the room shows whatever races are being broadcast that day.
Fill up your water bottle at the gorgeous fountain. Park your bike indoor or out. Buy a PUREBAR to shove in your pocket for ride food. Grab the pump to add air to your tyres. Clip clop around in your cleats without worrying about damaging the floor. It has been intentionally left as concrete to accommodate cycling shoes.
The La Fabrica loyalty card features the images of professional cyclists, and the customer that drinks the most coffee in any given week is crowned winner of the “La Fabrica Coffee GC” competition.
“Initially Christian wanted the café to be completely separate from cycling,” said Amber. “He wanted it to be about good coffee and that was it. Eventually I was able to convince him that if we incorporate cycling, we would be more successful. It was like pulling teeth, but he came around. We obviously cater to cyclists, but I wouldn’t say that we’re a cycling café – and the coffee comes first.”
And while La Fabrica Girona undeniably appeals to cyclists, it’s important to Amber that the coffee shop is a place for everyone. The communal table fosters a sense of connection. Many of the daily customers know the Meiers and each other, so there is constant chatter and greetings exchanged as people filter in and out. For the last month, Amber has hosted Catalan lessons on Friday evenings. By the request of a few of the locals, she’s added weekly English lessons to the offerings.
“We want people to hang out,” Amber said. “We want to be a place where people feel at home. We want our friends to come here and stick around, and we want our customers to become our friends. I know this sounds cheesy, but I want this to be a place where you come in and everyone knows your name. It’s a place to be with friends and meet new friends – where everyone is welcome.”