Talking to… Two Schmucks 2.0 in Barcelona
Words by Juliette Larrouy and Pom Modeste
Photography by Supplied
Juliette Larrouy and Pom Modeste took over the much loved ‘five-star dive bar,’ Two Schmucks in Barcelona this summer. Together they've developed Two Schmucks 2.0., putting in small changes to imprint a new personality on the bar. Pom is a trained pastry chef and Juliette was the former manager at the acclaimed Le Syndicat cocktail bar in Paris.
How does the partnership between you work when it comes to creative decisions, logistics and the team? And what do you each like about working with the other? We both come from somewhat similar, yet different backgrounds, both of us being French, discussing things comes natural to us, our differences create a lot of contradictions but we think of that as a good thing - the push & pull – we usually find answers somewhere in the middle. And that’s worked great for us so far.
Why did you decide to approach taking over as a 2.0 rather than a continuation of the original Schmucks? Two Schmucks as a bar is a reflection of the people that inhabit it, When Moe and AJ were running it, there was a lot in the bar that was a reflection of who they were. As we were meant to take over, they were adamant to approach it like a passing of the torch, to pursue the goal and standards of the bar whilst making it our own and allowing the space to reflect who we are.
To the customer's eye what has changed for Schmucks 2.0? More French accents haha, and a slightly different approach to the drinks program as we both come from French culinary backgrounds. And definitely better tunes!
Considering lots of bars (especially in Melbourne here in Aus) are reopening with a different style and vibe thanks to restrictions, what advice would you give on keeping a venue grounded in the same principles while adapting and changing to the current global situation? More than ever we think it’s important to understand your clientele, solidify your community and acknowledge your situation. It will most likely involve sacrifice and changes on some aspects of your initial concept, yet it might strengthen different aspects of your bar. An example of this is our “Barrio Cocktails” menu that we did post-COVID which had 5 euro cocktails on tap. It was meant to serve our neighborhood, which we knew was suffering financially, and it meant we became a bit more high-volume and made a bit less money, however, we have an incredibly strong connection with our community. It’s not always comfortable but we believe it’s the right moment to take a step back and to just take a close look at your bar business.
How have you approached managing a small team and building that all-important team mentality? In our little five-person team, every member runs a small part of the business. That has obviously made everyone a lot more involved, and everyone cares more about what actually happens, whether that’s the stock, scheduling or events, everyone here does a small part and that’s helped keep our small team strong.
Juliette Larrouy & Pom Modeste
What have been some of the creative challenges for you both in taking over an already established bar with a very unique voice and style? I think the biggest challenge has been to differentiate that we’re not just continuing to run things exactly the same but that we’re applying constant small changes and the goal is that these changes pile up and cascade to the point where it’ll become our voice and our style.
Do you think the kind of hospitality Schmucks is famous for can be taught / trained, or does it take a certain type of person to create that warmth and fun? Of course our hospitality can be taught, it’s quite simple. There are a few sayings we have here, “Don’t be a dick, be a schmuck” meaning just be yourself, or “Schmuck or die” basically meaning be yourself or die haha. There’s an emphasis on just being your true self here and we approach it the same with the team. We believe you can teach almost anyone how to bartend and how to have basic service skills, however it’s hard to teach someone how to be a good person. For us it begins at the hiring process where we always prioritize emotional quotient.
What have you both taken from Paris and your time working there that one might now notice at Two Schmucks? CALVADOS, loads of it, we now have a house Calvados!
How do you both go about making a bar stand out, stay memorable and get that return visit? The technical aspects of operating our bar is set in stone. When the machine is running itself, all you have to do is to show up and just try to give the best service you possibly can, upping what you did yesterday and constantly looking at what our current weakest link is and how we can strengthen it.
Do you think drinking culture and bar culture will have changed forever due to COVID? No, we believe that people have a tendency to forget pain. If you ask us if 2022 will be full of restrictions and crazy hurdles every week, then nah, the show goes on. People will be more aware and more cautious maybe, but all it takes is a green light, a few big events and a few live shows and it all goes back to normal.