Lydia’s Smokehouse an ode to Southern tradition, smoked meat and American culture
John-Malek and César Galán run Lydia’s Smokehouse, the new restaurant that has caused a sensation among fans of smoked roasted meat and hamburgers in Ibiza. Partners, managers and friends, they embarked on this adventure together in the middle of the pandemic, hand-building the restaurant without any outside help and taking advantage of resources others didn’t value. They reused wood and scraps to build their dream of opening an unprecedented foodie concept in Ibiza: a typical Southern US smokehouse. Now in its second year, Lydia’s is opening a new roadside diner (which will even have a drive-in cinema), a historic destination for motorbike tours of the island. “We want to show people that roadside diners are cool, and we’re going to succeed,” explains César Galán.
Who are you and how did you meet?
I’m César Galán, but everyone knows me as Samo. I’m from the world of haute cuisine and spent 19 years working in that area, since I first started in a kitchen at 17. I launched and ran my own business (a catering company) at 21 until now, when I’m 36. I've got three restaurants in Madrid, a restaurant consultancy company that means I travel across Spain discovering new goals, and I’m also partner in a talent management start-up. Two years ago, I decided to hit the brakes and have a change of scene; I wasn’t happy in Madrid and felt demotivated. It’s awful feeling like that; I like new challenges, I like to be constantly put to test and to try new experiences outside of my comfort zone. The chance came along to work on a project in Ibiza and help out a friend, who is now one of the owners of Roto (Jorge Brazález). That’s where I met my partner, John-Malek, who was responsible for bookings and welcoming people as they arrived.
How did Lydia’s begin?
It all began at work. One night, John asked me to make him something for dinner outside of the opening times. Because the kitchen had already been cleaned, I made him a hamburger, just something quick. I noticed that he didn’t stop analysing the hamburger, so I asked him if there was something wrong with it. And he calmly told me that it was rubbish. And I’d made him dinner! Then he told me he was passionate about the world of hamburgers, we started talking about it and one day he invited me to a BBQ at his house to show me what he considered to be a really good hamburger. I went along with a bag of bacon, chorizos... The typical things. When I arrived, I had to hide it because the BBQ set-up they had there was something else. John had been cooking the meat for 16 hours. I was really surprised by how knowledgeable he was about the degree of doneness, temperatures... That’s when we started to talk. We saw that no one else was doing this in Ibiza and that’s where the idea for Lydia’s came from.
Why did you choose the name Lydia’s?
We chose the name because of the Lidia bull. We’re in Spain and although we’re not bull-fighting fans, the Lidia bull is an icon and we thought it would be the perfect match for our cows.
You opened your business in the middle of the pandemic... What was that like?
We decided to be brave, but the reality was the numbers didn’t add up. Then John-Malek’s godfather appeared. He’s a much older businessman with a really successful career and far more experience in the business world, and he was a decisive figure in the project. His name is John Mass but we call him “The Godfather”. He has over 45 years’ experience in business which gives us security, value and wisdom. We then had two challenges: finding premises that we liked, and uncertainty about how the Smokehouse concept would fit in in Ibiza.
How have you approached this season?
I’m an optimistic person. At Lydia’s we’ve planted the seed of optimism and succeeded in saving the business during the worst year in history.
At Lydia’s we’ve planted the seed of optimism and succeeded in saving the business during the worst year in history
The music, decoration and atmosphere are extremely important at Lydia’s...
We did all the decoration ourselves by hand. We plucked up all our courage and binged on YouTube tutorials. John is an industrial boat designer, so his design experience was really helpful. He’s also very handy. We’re proud of the decoration at Lydia’s because it perfectly reflects our concept. We’re artisans. We do everything from scratch: the sauces, bread, smoked meat... And we also built the restaurant with our own hands. We watched around 30 American films and documentaries to create the atmosphere we were after. We took notes about every detail that we liked so we could achieve the essence we wanted. I think that’s what really gives the business soul and has an impact on the customer’s experience.
We’re artisans. We do everything from scratch: the sauces, bread, smoked meat... And we also built the restaurant with our own hands
How was the project received in its first year?
We started the restaurant with three people and a few days later an influencer friend came from Madrid (María Pombo) with some of her friends. But she came for dinner, not to collaborate with us. It was a group of 18 influencers and, because we’d only just launched, we closed the restaurant for them. I never imagined what would happen the next day. They had over 10 million followers between them and that obviously meant a before and after. That was on a Friday and on the Sunday, when I arrived at the restaurant, there was an 80 m long queue at the door. Since then, we’ve had top division football players, DJs, famous public figures... But that story and how much it helped us aside, I think we’ve still got a long way to go to triumph in Ibiza. We’re aware of the situation in which we've opened and feel confident that we’ll get there.
What is your meat cooking process like?
We work with two machines called ‘smokers’. They have a hopper that you fill with pellets that burn and add smoke to the grill. This slowly cooks the meat at a temperature of 90˚C to 115˚C depending on the piece, giving it its smoky flavour. We also make smash burgers: old school burgers from the ’50s, balls of meat that are crushed in the grill like a sealing machine.
What will be your next steps?
At Lydia’s Downtown we’ll have all the hits of American cooking in a very ‘street’ format, and we want to set up a real smokehouse at the new Lydia’s that we’re opening this year in the north of the island.
The new Lydia’s roadside diner will specialise in roasted meat and will have a drive-in cinema
What will the new Lydia’s be like?
It’ll be located on Carretera de San Lorenzo. The main difference compared to Lydia’s Downton is the space; we’ll be able to have a far wider range of roasted meat. 70% of the menu will be roasted meat and 30% will be burgers. We’re going to have breakfasts with free coffee refills, grilled breakfasts... Like an authentic American roadside diner. The restaurant will also have a summer drive-in cinema where we’ll screen classic American films.
What is your objective with Lydia’s?
We intend to become an icon in Spain in the world of roasted meat. We want to open a further four Lydia’s in Ibiza that specialise in roasted meat and they will all be roadside diners. That’s why another of our goals is to show people that roadside diners are cool. I don’t think anyone has dared to do that in Spain.
If I only have one day to visit Lydia’s, what would you recommend I order?
You can’t leave without trying our pork ribs and cheeseburger, which has been nominated for the ‘Best Hamburger in Spain 2020’ award. And for dessert, our iconic key lime pie.