Can Spain Conquer America With Sandwiches?

The ambitious Spanish sandwich chain 100 Montaditos plans to out-Starbucks Starbucks in the rapid growth department by building 4,000 restaurants in the U.S. over the next five years. Could a European company actually pull off such a feat?

Well, 100 Montaditos seems to think so. Five reasons why we should entertain these ambitious conquistadores, if only for a few minutes:

  • In just four years, they've doubled the number of outlets in their home country to 200.
  • Their stores in Miami are booming.
  • Their prices rival those of Subway, with most sandwiches costing between $1 and $2. You can eat a few sandwiches for only $5! And you will have to, because these things are only like five inches long.
  • Despite the low prices, they offer quite a fancy and expansive menu—sandwich ingredients include salmon, hearts of palm, arugula, duck mousse, and Iberic cheese. But you can also get stuff like straight-up PB&J.
  • Their restaurants are pleasant. "We see Americans coming to our restaurant there, and they relax and enjoy the atmosphere as if they were in Spain," says the chain's general director, Carlos Pérez. (Can you do work on your computer while you're relaxing?)

Okay, so #1 and #2 are encouraging signs, #3 definitely works in their favor considering, and #5 will probably be fine now that America's convenience-obsessed robo-hobo diners have come to expect more glamour out of their swamp-food establishments. But #4, which relates to the actual food itself, suggests that the 100 Montaditores don't really "get" the American palate. Sure, they got fries—but also side orders of roasted nuts and olives. And the nuts and olives aren't even deep-fried, or dipped in a sugary glaze and then deep-fried.

Maybe they could try peddling Iberian "cheez," and add "valu" to the names of some items, but even those tricks don't seem like enough to bridge the Arugula Gap. And as for "pink sauce," well, try selling that in Abilene.

"There's nothing wrong with dreaming big, but it's massively difficult [to] achieve that growth pace," Larry Miller, a managing director at Atlanta's RBC Capital Markets, tells Businessweek. "Nobody here has ever done it, and it may be even more difficult for a foreign company." Starbucks didn't even have 4,000 stores until it was 30 years old.

It's funny how nobody besides American corporations and analysts really understands how capitalism works. [BusinessWeek. Image Trubble/via Flickr]