Honesty is everything: Alma Nomad Bakery in Madrid

Honesty is everything: Alma Nomad Bakery in Madrid

It’s been three years since I talked to the founders of Alma Nomad Bakery, Timi Árgyélán and Joaqin Escriva in Budapest. Back then, with the long queues forming every morning in front of their small store on Kamermayer square, it was evident that the duo had created something special. It was not only the bakery’s fantastic flavours, but their honest approach that summoned the Hungarian capital’s audience even at the time when high-quality artisan bakeries hadn’t yet been popping up on every corner.

Despite running a successful business, in 2019, Timi and Joaqin moved to Joaqin’s homeland in Madrid, opened the new Alma Nomad Bakery, and their success story continued…not only have they become a local favourite, but prominent mediums such as El País, Condé Nast, Spanish Vogue and Monocle have also raved about the place. I was very interested to find out what the duo thinks their success lies in, what sets them apart from other bakeries and how they feel living in a metropolis when their name has the word “nomad” in it—as they’d already longed for the tranquillity of the countryside in Budapest.

This article was published in print in Hype&Hyper 2022/2.

Photos by Dániel Gaál

The last time we spoke in 2019 in Budapest, you mentioned that moving elsewhere might become a reality. At the time, the Southern part of Spain was on the cards, because you weren’t keen on living in a metropolis. So how did you end up in Madrid?

Árgyélán Timi: The reason was very simple: I got pregnant not long after we had to move out of our rental apartment in Budapest. We toyed with the idea of staying, but in the end, we thought moving to Madrid would be the easiest option as Joaqin’s parents and family would be able to help us there, so we decided against Southern Spain after all. We still had the small Alma in Budapest, when we started searching for a new place in Madrid. We couldn’t rent the first spot we found in our neighbourhood, but then we stumbled upon our current place that also had great features. It’s located on a family-friendly square on the corner, and even though it was in a really bad shape, we thought it was worth investing into the renovation.

In Budapest, to this day, many people think back fondly of Alma, even with the city going through a full-fledged bakery revolution. Was it hard for you to leave behind such a supportive community, a successful business and a loyal customer base?

Yes, it was very difficult, that’s why we started to look for another store after closing the first one, but we didn’t succeed, so we decided to give it a rest—but we didn’t want to disappear entirely. We ended up organising a pop-up market at Lake Balaton, which people loved, and that once again gave us strength knowing we’re doing something right.

The Madrid-based bakery proved this even more. What do you think your success lies in? It was easier to find the elements that set you apart in Budapest, as your bakery was truly groundbreaking three years ago. But what about the scene in Madrid?

Before we started our bakery in Budapest, the first generation of artisan bakeries had already opened: Artizán, Pékműhely, Búzalelke and Jacques Liszt. What set us apart might have been our backgrounds (both Timi and Joaqin worked as chefs before opening their bakery – ed.) that let us pour our knowledge of gastronomy into what we do while creating something simple and rustic. Our pastries had deeper flavours, but you couldn’t see this from the outside, they weren’t perfect, but their basis was well-founded in ingredients and our professional knowledge. Still, the key might have been our laid-back style—simple flavours and great shapes. I love classic French gastronomy and it inspires me a lot. We’re not pushing for innovation just for the sake of it, or finding extreme flavour combinations, but rather we work on classic, tried flavour pairings, and take seasonality into consideration as well. I don’t like labels, but reviews frequently mention a kind of “mum-grandma” feeling of cosiness and warmth. I believe that we’re attractive to customers for not being over-thought, so everyone can understand and connect to our products.

There are many wonderful bakeries in Madrid, but we opened our store at the right time so we could—and still can—show something new, something different. Alma has its own, recognizable language, defined by simplicity. Our perfectionism lies in the foundations: when you have the perfect basis such as a dough or a filling, then you have the space to be more laid-back, more playful.

Thankfully, we integrated into Madrid really well, and we’re receiving a lot of positive feedback.

Let’s stick to the baked goods—you mentioned being influenced by French gastronomy. Do your pastries convey anything from your Spanish and Hungarian heritage?

Even if it’s not entirely conscious, there is something from both of our backgrounds in our products. The Spanish influence is evident in the ingredients we use—local cheeses, hams and salamis. My Hungarian background is reminiscent of the cocoa swirls, scones, and using poppy seeds. We consciously left these out of our menu in Budapest, but included them here, and people love it. Using poppy seeds or baking scones or brioche is uncommon in Madrid, so we’re able to provide our customers with something unusual. This is true the other way around as well—in Budapest, pastries with chorizo or machengo were always our bestsellers.

It was only the two of you working in the store in Budapest, but you have a proper team in Madrid. Can you tell us about this change, and what are the differences in running a business in Spain?

Based on our experiences, the business culture here is unlike what we witnessed in Hungary. It’s very easy to run a business, and there’s a lot of support. At home in Hungary, it seems like store owners haven’t yet realised that it’s worth putting your trust into someone. During the renovation process, we didn’t have to pay rent for half a year—it’s gestures like these that give a lot of motivation to business owners.

Currently, there are nine of us working in the store. The team is amazing. It’s a great sign that we started out as three, and we’ve been constantly growing since. I hope every colleague likes working here, there’s always a cheerful atmosphere.

Your store in Madrid seems very stable at the moment—what are your plans for the future? Is it likely that Alma Nomad Bakery will start wandering around once again?

We’ve been thinking about expanding, but not like a franchise. I believe that growth is important to be sustainable, to be able to cover the store’s expenses. We pay our workers well, and appreciating good work is of high importance for me. This is one of the reasons why we’re not planning on leaving the city. Madrid is a great place, very liveable, and family-oriented with a positive mentality. Many reasons point to us staying, even though for me, a metropolis is not ideal—I long to be in a garden, surrounded by animals. However, there is a very exciting project to be realised in downtown Budapest that we’re working on with two fantastic culinary professionals. We’ve already found the location, and while there are still a few elements missing, what I can say is that there will be Alma pastries for sure!

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