Ibiza holidays

Ibiza lockdown diaries #6

Tito Piazza, Owner & Executive Chef of Locals Only

Having always strived to be an example of sustainability for the Ibiza community and his customers, Tito Piazza, Owner & Executive Chef of Locals Only, shares his vision for a sustainable future for the island.

When chef and restaurateur Tito Piazza called his restaurant Locals Only in 2014, the name was inspired by the idea that all citizens of the world would be welcome to enjoy the osteria-style space in Plaza del Parque in Ibiza town. Little did he know that in 2020, most of the world would be locked down for over two months, and not even a born and bred Ibiza local would be able to step onto the premises. Hailing from a town called Asolo in the Italian province of Treviso, Tito is a natural people person and admits he has never spent this much time in isolation in his life.

Locals Only takes a brief annual hiatus between mid-December and mid-March, and after Tito returned to the island in late January after spending the holidays with his family followed by an adventurous trip to the Galapagos Islands with his girlfriend, it was business as usual, giving the restaurant a deep clean, fresh coat of paint, some refurbishments and general maintenance. The space was just two days away from the official 2020 re-opening when Tito received the news of the confinement restrictions. “It was an absolute shock,” he recalls. “The rapid escalation to the big lockdown was beyond belief.” Here, he shares his vision for a more sustainable future.

Describe your current Ibiza lockdown situation?
I live in Ibiza town by myself, in an apartment on the fourth floor, with partial views of Dalt Vila. I do wish I was living in a house with land so I could start growing my own food! But my space is very comfortable and very close to the restaurant. I was able to keep myself busy, considering this ‘great pause’. But honestly, I have never taken this amount of time to just be at home in my entire life. So, once I settled in, the time was welcome and I got creative. I definitely struggled with thoughts about the economy and reimagining how the world is going to recover together. I had to focus on my desired outcome and sift through all the information that was out there, but nothing is certain.

Did you expect the Ibiza lockdown to be as serious, and as lengthy and restrictive as it has been?
No, no, and no, I did NOT! My team and I were in the thick of recruiting, redesigning the menu, designing new wine and drinks lists, and contacting vendors. It’s always an exciting dance to prepare to re-open the doors, getting the staff ready to set up for the big day. This winter, I upgraded our water and installed a reverse osmosis system so we could generate re-mineralised drinking water, and produce our own ice – something I’ve been dreaming of since 2014. All of a sudden, I had to analyse contingency plans in every possible way with the restaurant, and my personal life. We have never experienced anything like this, obviously, and the world was not prepared for something of this proportion.

What is your daily life like now?
Routine is the most important thing! Usually, I’m up at 8am. I give myself a good hour to have breakfast and listen to the news. Then the morning is typically dedicated to the business: banking, accounting, and following the new mandatory regulations. But for the most part, it is planning and forecasting the next six months. What a challenge! We are in a very blind spot. For sure, one direction is food deliveries and takeaway, and I’ve been working on that a lot. My chef and I started a small service from home, where friends can pick-up prepared meals from my place. All the money made went to support my chef through this time – I just take out enough to cover the ingredients. It’s entraining and keeps us alive!

How are you feeling on a personal level right now?
Truly fine. Healthy thank god! Just bored at times… I’m so used to spending all my time working. It’s like living in slow motion now!

Who or what do you miss most right now?
Hiking all around the island and being with friends.

What’s been most the challenging thing for you throughout this experience?
Thinking of the whole scenario… My mother is in Italy and turns 88 this year, so if something was wrong with her, it would have driven me mad to not be able to go and see her. Other than that, I feel sadness thinking of all the citizens of the world who are not fortunate, and have had to go through some harsh realities.

Has there been anything about the lockdown experience you’ve enjoyed?
Cooking of course! And I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with local businesses to strengthen our relationships and see how we can be supportive to each othe for our community to thrive again. Time, which I don’t normally have. I have also been deepening my research on sustainability. I’ve loved having the time to explore new research and concepts, like conscious consumerism. Sustainability is the new sexy!

What’s been entertaining you during this period?
Movies are number one! Books, not so much, as it’s hard for me to find quiet moments in my mind. It’s kinda spinning all the times! I love La Casa de Papel.

What’s been educating you?
I’ve enjoyed witnessing so many brave locals working on creative efforts for good causes, like local vegetables and fruit, or cheese production. I’m convinced that Ibiza alone could have all the necessary resources to keep up a fully local sustainable production on food and more, in a natural environment. It becomes clearer and clearer that locally sourced materials and supplies are more important than ever.

What’s made you laugh during this time?
Lots of funny cooking shows!

How has the lockdown impacted your business and industry?
Well, considering that my business is hospitality oriented, I’m surely facing a time of uncertainty. I am planning a 90% decline from last year in my business forecast for the months left this year. I’m doing my best to keep a positive attitude. The government has just confirmed we can reopen on May 11, on the terrace only and with 30% of operating space. Obviously, safety first. The scariest part is that we are moving towards a worldwide economic crisis, and that hasn’t even started yet. The way of living is going to change for all of us. Just imagine a midclass family: they are unlikely to travel for both safety and financial sovereignty this year. The airline companies will experience a catastrophic impact from this, and if they survive, their pricing will certainly go up.

Have you set yourself any goals during this period?
I have deepened my beliefs and desires to influence sustainability. I started Locals Only with this concept, but this time has been like a microscope into how we treat the planet. Business is no longer about the bottom line. It must be about how are we treat the planet and how we are leaving it for the next generation. I hope that this message from Mother Nature won’t go in vain. There were dolphins jumping in the Ibiza port last week. I overheard on the news that the ozone layer looks like it was 30 years ago. We, as in the world population, must comprehend how important it is to stop massive globalisation. Slow down our pace of life.

Do you think these goals are achievable on a global level?Yes, if we get more sensitive to the impact of our footprint to the land. I mean: how about allowing only compostable bags of all kinds (garbage, dogs pup, grocery) in the Balearic Islands? How about the local government helps the local production of any sort of food? How about thinking about the preservation of our planet, instead of ONLY looking for the cheapest thing available, something that has probably travelled around the globe to get to us?

How do you manage stress during such uncertain times?
In reality I’d say I did OK. I believe in the saying: the captain is the last to leave the ship! From another perspective though, thinking of how much it has taken me to build the business over the first five years of Locals Only, and now watching this very steep decline, I have also been sitting on a permanent headache and trying to my creative vision open. This is a time to connect with your networks and look at all ways to create business. Hopefully people are going to be more caring and loving. We must appreciate life now more than ever!

What are your hopes for Ibiza in the future?
I have the tendency to think pessimistically, so then it can only get better! The saying ‘hope for the best and plan for the worst’ flies well with me, haha! Jokes aside, I want to think positive. This whole situation needs to be a lesson for humanity, and hopefully good things will come out of it. Surely, we all need to take it down a notch, stop over-consuming and taking life for granted. I truly hope we make better efforts to appreciate and respect Mother Nature. After living through September 11 in NYC – as I stood at the top of The Rainbow Room, watching the twin towers fall as we all evacuated – one of the things I’ve learned is that only the strong survive. I don’t want to sound dramatic. You must stay strong in your mind. The result should be that people become more aware of the power of quality.

Do you have any fears for the future of the island?
Right now, I’m planning for the worst possible outcome, so we can only go up if we continue to work together.

What about your own future – how is that looking right now?
We are continually refining the concept of Locals Only and deepening our commitment to zero waste, KM0 and reducing our carbon footprint. Now, my crew and I will have more time to be creative and welcoming, to educate our customers on the sources and quality of our food and drink. I want to start teaching cooking classes for people to learn how to prepare and store food, and still make it tasty. We as a society were not empowered enough for this moment in time. I’d love to help people feel more self-sufficient to stay healthy and safe. There is a lot of opportunity to collaborate and create sustainability locally. We strive to be an example of sustainability for our community and customers.

Have you seen your direct community come together in ways that can support this?
I have seen a lot of local farms, like Eco Feixes, Can Soldat, Biofarm and Can Musson, stepping up and making sure their vegetables can get in the hands of people so they can stay healthy. They have made it accessible to everyone and delivered to people’s homes. It’s one thing to get 50 people to go to a chain grocery store, and it’s another to be a local farmer and deliver to 50 families. You are nourishing your island. That’s the way it should be.

Do you feel safe here? Is there anywhere else you’d rather be quarantined than Ibiza?
Ibiza is home, there is no safer place. With the benefit of low contamination, it feels really refreshing.  We also have the ability to become a self-sustaining island. I’d love to support that idea.

What are you most looking forward to when the restrictions are lifted?
Going for a hike and hosting a dinner party for my friends.

Is there anything you might miss?
No. I love being active, creating and serving my customers.

Any other reflections or lessons you’d like to share?
I truly believe we have the ability to rise above this crisis together. It will not be an easy road, but we must stick together and support each other. Using a conscious consumption model will create an incredible impact on the quality of life for those visiting and living in Ibiza. Doing business locally is where we will prevail. There is a beautiful trifecta to buying local. First, the food cost comes down because it is locally sourced – less time and money is spent on transport. Second, your local food is more nutritious – it’s fresher, and nutrient-rich which is way more satisfying. Thirdly, ‘farm to table’ restaurants like Locals Only support the local community which builds a healthy sustainable environment.