‘It’s fashionable to be cool and innovative in the kitchen’
This week we chat to California native Michelle Fabregas, who founded food company Dribble Dots in Barcelona with her husband, Jason Clevering.
Published: 9 May 2016 14:43 CEST
Michelle Fabregas, who runs Dribble Dots with her partner Jason Clevering. Photo: dribbledots.com
Where are you from originally and what brought you to Spain?
Jason and I are both California natives, born in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. We actually both attended USC, although we met years later! We were both working as photographers in LA when I decided I needed a change and wanted to pursue my passion: cooking. Having traveled the world, but never having lived abroad, I decided to move to Spain to earn my culinary degree.
After all, Spain is on the forefront of cuisine with its combination of loyalty to tradition and innovation for molecular gastronomy. Jason came to Barcelona soon after for a job in video production. The plan was to return to the States after my year long course, but we ended up getting good work, so we stayed!
What do you love and loathe about living in Barcelona?
We really like the lifestyle here, especially the food and the people! There is so much to love about this city. The architecture, art, weather and gastronomy are all part of what inspires us. The major drawback is the slow pace when it comes to business, but there are ways to make it work!
Tell us about Dribble Dots, what inspired you to start the business?
We are a pretty modern couple with a thirst for anything new and different. Additionally, sharing an affinity for both design and food, we are constantly searching for culinary products that satisfy our visual appetites as well as our hunger for the sweet and savoury. Spain is a country rich in tradition and cuisine and its supermarket shelves reflect this in every way. Brilliant products with super traditional packaging sometimes pique our interest, but in our sterile, white kitchen with clean lines and Scandinavian design, we often crave culinary products with an edgier look.
Michelle and Jason, founders of Dribble Dots.
This is how Dribble Dots was conceived. Jason woke up in the middle of the night five years ago and developed the name, logo, several products lines and a marketing strategy within an hour. He then woke me up, at the time I was his then soon-to-be wife, and I then proceeded to tell him to “Go back to ****ing sleep!” Eventually, I came around and we dedicated ourselves to bringing this concept to life. The idea was to build the brand for several years before launching a product in order to create demand and gain consumer awareness. We planned to partner with reputable producers of various cooking products to bring them to market, using our arsenal of brand ambassadors and their expertise in craftsmanship to reach a young and trendy demographic of food lovers.
Dribble Dots is a lifestyle brand that offers culinary products of high quality and modern design at fair prices. Our product range currently includes edible oils, wines/cavas, spices and chocolates. We communicate our philosophy not only through our products, but also through our brand ambassadors, including world class athletes, musicians, chefs and artists. With major sponsorships in MotoGP, Premier League Football and with top DJs, we convey modernity and sexiness with food and beverage products.
Are your customers mainly based in Spain or abroad?
In addition to Spain, we will launch very soon in British supermarkets as well as in Asia and other parts of Europe. Our sports sponsorships include several Spanish riders in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 as well as the British football team, Crystal Palace, which will help us with our marketing push to penetrate these markets.
What are the challenges of starting a business in Spain and in the food industry in particular?
As foreigners, we have faced several challenges with starting a business in Spain. Bureaucracy here is an entirely different monster to battle compared with that of the States. It’s quite a slow paced environment, but we have been fortunate to align ourselves with some expats and Spaniards whose business philosophy and hankering for making headway at a hasty pace match our own.
Regarding the food industry, it is especially difficult to reach certain demographics who are resistant to change. People are used to a certain type of packaging, a certain way of cooking or certain ingredients. For example, it is very difficult for some to understand that you can use pistachio oil for pà amb tomàquet instead of olive oil.
Pumpkinseed oil pesto can sound too exotic for someone to try if he or she is accustomed to the olive oil/pine nut combo. Tradition is very important to most people in Europe in general, but the next generation is paving a new path for foodies around the globe. Our products, that are atypical, can be a way for both experienced and newbie chefs alike to experiment with new recipes and techniques. It is extremely fashionable to be innovative and cool in the kitchen, so we hope to reach those who can harness both creativity and simplicity.
Your marketing is very cool, was it a conscious decision to appeal to younger people?
It was absolutely a conscious decision to appeal to younger people. More and more these days, younger people are learning how to cook and are finding appreciation for beautiful food and ingredients. This is evident in the popularity of many food shows on TV, channels on YouTube that are dedicated to chefs and the rockstar treatment that “celebrity” chefs receive these days. Long story short: cooking is cool!
We feel that you don’t have to open your cupboard and feel like you are shopping in your grandmother’s house. While we appreciate tradition, we feel that packaging (much like interior design) can be mixed and matched! We personally use and enjoy a lot of traditionally packaged products “de toda la vida” – from brands which have been trusted for generations. At the same time, it is really nice to be able to display cool and trendy products in your kitchen. Food is like fashion; the products you buy are a representation of your true self. Our mission is to provide the younger generation with products with which they identify, both inside and outside of the bottle. In the coming years, we will evolve together with this generation while maintaining our core beliefs.
What do you think of Barcelona's food scene? Does it inspire you?
Barcelona’s food scene is insanely amazing and it is the main thing that brought us to Spain. I (Michelle) came here to attend culinary school and we were so in love with the city and its cuisine that we couldn’t say goodbye! One of the greatest things about Barcelona is that it offers superb fine dining, while at the same time there are hundreds (if not thousands) of hidden corners and “holes in the wall” where you can eat at a bargain!
You have sponsored some huge events, is it hard to find such sponsorship deals and what benefits does it bring you?
We have had a lot of great partnerships, particularly with Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing among other teams, in MotoGP. We also sponsor a Premier League football team, Crystal Palace, which has been extremely exciting for us. It is not easy to find these opportunities, but in the end if both parties can find a mutual benefit from the partnership, it becomes very fruitful. Our brand and philosophy coincide with those of the teams, so it is easy to support each other and work together.
These relationships definitely help us get our foot in the door more quickly with retailers and distributors. We used last season to gain brand awareness and from that publicity, we have garnered a lot of interest worldwide. With these brand ambassadors, we can offer a lot of marketing support and co-promotion to retailers, who wouldn’t experience the same support from another novice food brand that didn’t have such a wide reach.
What are your favourite Dribble Dots products?
Wow, this is like choosing between our children! We can both sincerely say that all of our products have a different appeal and are appropriate for different occasions. For a summer afternoon in a chiringuito staring serenely at the sea, perhaps we would go for a rosé sparkling wine. A breakfast in bed of toast and eggs may require a sprinkling of our Mapuche chili spice blend, “Up In Smoke”. With a Bellini of Dribble Dots Brut Nature cava, of course! In spite of our love for each and every one of our products, I do have a soft spot for our Seductive Sesame Oil, which comes from an artisan mill in Japan and literally goes with EVERYTHING!
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to continue growing the brand and the product range over the years in order to continue sharing our lifestyle and brand with the world. Being expats and having traveled a lot, we are discovering new products and culinary styles every year. We plan to constantly be on the lookout for new and old products that fit our brand in order to include them in our lineup of products. Furthermore, we plan to continue our relationships with our sports teams and possibly grow more in terms of events. Getting involved in soccer and MotoGP has been a dream come true; in the future, we see music festivals, charity events and other types of fun experiences for Dribble Dots! Who knows, maybe a Dribble Dots store or restaurant is hiding somewhere in a crystal ball…