May 14, 2022 12:05 pm

Mambrú, a dream that has lasted 40 years: the story of the Mar del Plata icon that almost disappeared in a fire

Several minutes passed 20 and the service is already at its maximum capacity. Through the tables, dimly lit by an orange lamp, passes Cristian Schmidt and deals cards, cups and plates. Outside, the smell of the sea accompanies diners who chose the open air to dine, while inside the aroma of pizza and the heat of the oven blend with the brick walls carefully chosen years ago. Fernando Ball Latinas He walks out of the kitchen and stands at the counter. The restaurant his father founded in Mar del Plata It has been full for more than four decades, yet another night.

However, the road was not easy. Keeping a business alive for more than 40 years is an arduous task that even put them to the test several times. The hyperinflation of 1989 and the crisis of 2001 hit the gastronomic sector and Mambru was no exception. They were able to move forward and with the same energy that has always characterized them, they opened their doors no matter what happened later. But the challenges continued. The pandemic left Fernando with many debts and just when he seemed to overcome the bad moment, on January 15 his business caught fire.

“I thought about not continuing after the fire”Fernando told LA NACIÓN. “It’s a fucked up moment to see your business catch fire. If I have to be honest, it was more noise than nuts but I didn’t even want to look at the media. I don’t know how to explain it. I didn’t know whether to lower my arms, I felt guilty but the people and the staff told me very nice things, they even offered me money. that gives you a lot of strength”, he added.

Fortunately, the fire did not reach inside. “If you enter the premises the same day of the fire, you say ‘nothing happened here,’” explained Fernando. However, the roof and ceiling repair will not be cheap. In the absence of a defined budget and only for part of the repairs, the Mambrú team He already spent $500,000.

The fire in Mambrú affected the roof and will cost several days of repairs

In a season with pre-pandemic levels, residents and tourists felt the blow. “It’s one of those places that you think will always be there,” said a neighbor surprised by the news. The classic pizzas, huge burgers and sauces will have to wait a little longer. Today, The historic La Perla pizzeria has its doors closed, although the desire to fill its tables is more alive than ever. “My dream is to return in 20 days, I don’t know if I’m going to make it. There are administrative issues, there are a lot of things. I still don’t know the full budget or the times, but there are people who are helping us fully, “projected its owner.

Mambrú was the dream of Jorge Ball Llantinas, who founded it on January 1, 1981. Born in Buenos Aires, he fell in love with a style of cooking that was unusual at the time. Today, several recognized pizzerias such as Guerrin The The Quatrains They have this type of preparations: half dough, 500gr of mozzarella and a shower of ingredients that provoke the desire of many.

But Mar del Plata was not convinced by that. emblems like Pedrito they prepared a stone-baked pizza that seemed to be the taste of those who spent their days looking at the sea and there was not much room for innovation.

Mar del Plata in full movement real estate years ago; To one side, Mambrú already said present and showed its gabled roof in a vintage photo

“My old man used to make sliced ​​pizza on a property that belonged to his brother. He played it, sold everything he had, borrowed a lot of money and set up shop here on Libertad Avenue. It opened in a place that is not even on the gastronomic circuit today. He liked the house, he must have had some intuition”, recalled Fernando with pride but also with nostalgia.

What counts is an undeniable truth. Mambrú is on Avenida Libertad 3321, a couple of blocks from the renowned Plaza España and the Alicante spa. Four hundred meters separate it from the coast but still It is still not a very busy area.

If today, in the middle of 2022, it is difficult to find the pizzeria “in passing”, even more so in 1981. “At one point they were undergoing renovations and my old man went out to ask for a light. I don’t know how long it was that no one passed. He came in and said ‘it’s crazy, I’m going to end up melting’. He finished the place and when he looked at it, he didn’t like how it turned out either because he thought it looked like a tea house. He decided to break with that aesthetic with a sign that said ‘Pizza de mozzarella a un palo’. It was a success from day one.”

Mambrú is located in a residential area, with hardly any nearby shops around
Mambrú is located in a residential area, with hardly any nearby shops around

That was how the years passed and the name of Mambrú It was becoming known throughout Mar del Plata. As tourists arrived and asked for a place to eat, the locals already had a recommendation that was not going to fail. Cheese-filled pizzas and celebrities calzone They already spoke for themselves while the hamburgers, a house success, also stood out among the options on the menu. When Fernando and Cristian recall the beginnings of their menu, they are proud to admit who were the first to add raw ham and arugula to a pizza, sauce on some potatoes or bring nachos with cheddar cheese on the menu, advised by personnel from the Mexican embassy.

When mandatory isolation was decreed in March 2020, the sector that suffered the most was gastronomy. They had to close their doors and for many months they could not sell a single soda. “I saw places get on their knees and fall as low as to call you on WhatsApp; people sold at any price in order to sell. They make you close but you have employees, taxes, social charges, services… I had a little money but it lasted me 20 days. The pandemic was tremendous for gastronomy and it took many stalls,” said Ball Llantinas.

They – like so many others – were forced to resort to different practices to survive. Mambrú sold drinks to the warehouse market and wines to those who wanted them. Fernando, for his part, got rid of personal belongings in order to get some money that would allow him to keep up with his accounts. In a context of uncertainty, none of this was enough and debt became the only way out to keep the place standing. “It affected me very badly psychologically. I was getting up and they lowered me from a slingshot,” he lamented.

Next to him in all the bad moments he was always Cristian. Schmidt arrived at the pizzeria 30 years ago, with “his hair down,” as he describes himself, and an unconvincing track record for an employer. “I was lazy, nobody trusted me, I was very irresponsible,” he acknowledged in dialogue with this medium. Even so, he entered as the “che, kid” and a year he was already the local pizza man. “Fernando educated me in a lot of things, in gastronomy, in everything. I always saw him as an older brother. Here we have specific functions but we all do everything. I was educated next to him and he educated me in what work and responsibility are, “he thanked.

Fernando Ball Latinas;  Cristian Schmidt, Nelson y Carlitos, who was studying law at the time and was a childhood friend of Fernando, today is a consecrated lawyer from Mar del Plata
Fernando Ball Latinas; Cristian Schmidt, Nelson y Carlitos, who was studying law at the time and was a childhood friend of Fernando, today is a consecrated lawyer from Mar del Plata

During the talk with LA NACIÓN, the love they have for each other was evident. Inside a pizzeria without light and full of construction materials, the friends sat at a table to tell this medium how they cope with the most recent blow they suffered. Anecdotes and laughter were never lacking and the concept of family was very prominent. Mambrú has seven employees that according to Cristian himself they do not feel like such, but that there is a very close bond; to that is added Fernando’s sister, his ex-wife and their son, who rotate in the different tasks and take care of everything from preparing a hamburger to cleaning the tables when the day ends.

Fernando laughs and affirms that they are going to return. He does not make forecasts, much less does he venture to say how he or his place will be in a few years. His voice hardens and laughter is pushed aside. “There will be no reopening because Mambrú never closed”, sentenced. “Maybe this had to happen for us to realize how people feel about us. Luckily no one was injured, the fire was from the ceiling up,” he added.

Mambrú, an emblem of the city of Mar del Plata
Mambrú, an emblem of the city of Mar del Plata

Cristian listens to him carefully, stops him and with a slightly colder look admits that he is coming. a very difficult and expensive reconstruction task. In addition, he takes a few seconds to thank the firefighters Pablo Prieto, Darío Villar, Jorge Fidalgo, Pablo Aguirre and the staff of the Caisamar barracks who “arrived within ten minutes of the first call.” Both are sure that they will return and their clients ask for it. Mambrú opened on January 1, 1981 and never closed; nor by fire, pandemic, hyperinflation or a national crisis.

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