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July 29, 2014

Famed Madrid restaurant ­­­Sobrino de Botín relies on family

The González family has owned and run Sobrino de Botín for three generations, but will the fourth generation continue the tradition?

By  Glenn Garrido-Olivar

MADRID – The González family has made the restaurant Sobrino de Botín a family business for four generations. Each member of the family, from brothers to cousins, has worked in the restaurant to become a part of the business and help it continue.

The fourth generation has other aspirations, however, raising questions about the future of the restaurant, which the Guinness Book of World Records has certified as the oldest restaurant in the world (1725). Ernest Hemingway, whose regular table is memorialized, includes ­­Botín in the closing pages of his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

“My family is the third family that owns this business,” said Berta González, who is being looked at to become the fourth generation to run the restaurant. “Every single member of the family my age has to [learn the business] just in case something happens and we have to take care of it in the future.” 

Berta González, fourth generation González family.   
(Photograph by Glenn Garrido-Olivar)

Complicating matters, however, are Berta’s occupational plans.

She is a graduate student perusing her master’s degree in education, and she says she dreams of being a teacher. When she’s home in Madrid, however, she helps out at the restaurant as a greeter and hostess.

“All the family, including me, are worried of losing the family line because I’m a teacher,” she said. “I’m not quite sure if I’m going to be working here in the future.”

Though waiters and cooks come and go, the González family is the constant.

“In the family business, it is useful that the young people practice on vacation, because we are currently on the third generation and preparing the fourth,” said Carlos González, who runs day-to-day operations at the restaurant.

He said he splits responsibility of running the restaurant with other third-generation family members – his brother Antonio González and cousin Pepe González.  

The more things change . . .

When a new generation takes over, they try to maintain Botín as the historical fixture it is and is expected to remain, from the look of the building to the original recipes passed down from founder Jean Botín. 

“We have taken care of the old recipes, the recipes that are passed down from parents to children,” Carlos said. “For us, it’s very important to conserve the traditional recipes because when a recipe has passed the test of time, it’s for a good reason”

The Sobrino de Botín recipes have been tweaked over the years, but never substantially altered.

“If you have a good thing, why break it?” Berta said, summing up the Botín philosophy. “We have a lot of good dishes, and we may change where we get the ingredients but we don’t change the recipe of how things are cooked.”

This sense of history and continuity explains much about the restaurant and its fabled place in Madrid’s culinary landscape. The González family makes sure all employees know the history of the restaurant and they teach them to care for the restaurant as if it were their own.

Raquel González, left, and her father Carlos González.
(Photograph by Glenn Garrido-Olivar) 

“We treat everyone like they are friends of the house, like they are family,” said Raquel
 González, another fourth-generation family member. Daughter of Carlos González, she is pursuing a degree in public relations. While she helps with the PR for the restaurant, she hopes to move on and branch out.

When she’s home on break from college, Raquel also helps out in the restaurant by baking some of the pastries and in serving as a hostess.

“I hope that it’s going to continue this way,” she said. “We have to keep improving, but always how we have been doing it.”

Botín at a glance 

  • Casa de Botín founded in 1725 by Jean Botín.
  • Renamed Sobrino de Botín by Candido Remis, Botín’s nephew.
  • Located behind Plaza Mayor at Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid.
  • Customer list includes Ernest Hemmingway, Quentin Tarantino, Chuck Norris, Javier Bardem, Nancy Reagan, past kings and queens of Spain.
  • Most popular dish: suckling pig roasted in the original 18th century oven.
  • Open from 1-4 p.m. and 8-12 p.m. every day.



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The history of Sobrino de Botín 

MADRID – Before Sobrino de Botín was a restaurant, it was a single-story home and cellar, believed to have been around since the 16th century. 

It was not until the 18th century that the French cook, Jean Botín, and his wife bought the home with plans on making it an inn. The original home was remodeled with additional floors to accommodate travelers, as well as a kitchen originally used as a bakery. This is also when the restaurant’s iconic ceramic wood-burning oven was built.

After Jean Botín and his wife died, the inn passed down to their nephew, Candido Remis. The Botíns never had children.

It was Remis who changed the name from Casa Botín to Sobrino de Botín, which translates to Nephew of Botín.

Remis and his family went on to operate Sobrino de Botín until the 20th century when the reins were passed on to Emilio González, the first generation of the González family, who started at the restaurant as a cook. The González family has operated Sobrino de Botín ever since.

The restaurant strives to provide excellent cuisine, great hospitality and good service, according to co-owner Carlos González.

“I believe that part of the success is due too the [restaurant’s] ancient history,” said Berta González, a fourth-generation family member involved with the restaurant. “I think that people come here because it’s amazing to see a restaurant that has never closed since 1725. It’s amazing to see, and if you can also eat good then it’s the whole package.”

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the suckling pig brought in every day from Segovia, and cooked in the original ceramic oven.

“It is an old, Castilian style of roast,” Carlos said. “It is a very special taste.”

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