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Tax officers topple top chef's restaurant dream

Published: 26 Jun 2013 12:50 GMT+02:00

Star chef Sergi Arola saw his Bistrot Gastro restaurant shut down by tax office officials on Tuesday.

At the same time, he and his wife, restaurant sommelier Sara Fort, were slapped with a bill for €148,000 in unpaid tax debts.  

To make matters worse, Arola— a one-time student of the world-famous Spanish chef Ferran Adrià — also owes the Social Security department €160,000.

"The restaurant of my dreams has turned into a nightmare,"  Arola told Spanish radio station Cadena SER on Tuesday.

The chef from Barcelona explained he had first found out about the closure of the restaurant while he was in Paris, preparing for trip to Lisbon.

"Honestly, I'm in a state of shock, I can't believe it," he told Cadena SER:

Asked whether the restaurant closure was something he'd been expecting, Arola said: "We were fearing it.

"We had spent eight months keeping up with tax and social security payments and we were starting to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. That's why it came as a such a blow."

"The officials turned up at around in the afternoon and didn't leave until six," Arola's wife Fort told national daily newspaper El País.

She said the tax agents closed up the cocktail bar and the cellar, and "would have closed the dining room too" if it hadn't been for the 40 guests present.

"They turned up without warning. If they had (warned us) we would have taken a few bottles to be able to serve people," Fort told the daily.

"The customers reacted well when they saw what was happening and some even brought their own wine," said the sommelier, who El País described as "visibly affected".

But there are still signs of hope for the couple.

Fort said that while she and Arola wouldn't be able to serve customers until debts where settled, shutting up shop forever was not yet on the cards.

A final closure could be avoided, she said, "if the bank supports us in this project and believes in the prestige of Sergi".

According to El País, the tax office did not accept Arola's assertions that the business was still viable, despite a regime of spending cuts at the establishment.

Fort said, though, that staff at the restaurant were still "motivated".

"They have given a lot, and have even accepted lower pay," she said.

"Having a gastronomic restaurant in Spain is extremely expensive," Arola told Cadena SER.

"Unfortunately we set up in 2006 when we thought Spain was a 'first division' country, and that this was a land of milk and honey."

Arola and Fort also run restaurants in Barcelona, Portugal, São Paulo, Chile y Bombay.

Asked whether those restaurants were still earning, Arola said: "Yes, but everything that I earn I have to invest in this well that is Madrid. 

George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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