“Thoughtfulness is a superpower” – Opening a Bar w/ Radio Nossa

by | CAREER GUIDANCE, Career Paths

Opening a bar in a big market is a major challenge no matter the circumstances, especially in a city with as much competition as Barcelona. It’s even more challenging if you happen to open your bar just a few months before a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic.

That’s the exact situation Selam Berhe, Sergio “Lone Wolf” Lopez, and Suji Nossa found themselves in. They are the owner/operators of music concept bar Radio Nossa, located in Barcelona’s hip Poble Sec neighborhood.

They opened in December 2019 and their concept–a radio station walks into a bar–saw immediate success before the covid-19 lockdowns and subsequent restrictions brought the city’s nightlife sector to its knees.

Now, after weathering the worst of the pandemic, Radio Nossa is full of life again.

Hosco recently caught up with Sergio and Selam at their bar to learn more about them, Radio Nossa, and what it's like opening a bar at perhaps the worst time in recent history.   

Sergio, can you fill us in on your background in the industry before getting involved with Radio Nossa?

Sergio: Well, my first hospitality job was actually at a Taco Bell in Florida. I was actually three weeks away from turning 16 years old, which is the legal age when you can start working. But back then you could make up anything on your application and they weren’t really checking that hard.

Selam: Mine was at a Burger King when I was 14! My dad kind of forced me to get a job and lie on the application to say I was 16.

Sergio: Yeah, in the US, there are a ton of different fast food restaurants to work at. After Taco Bell, I went and worked at Long John Silver’s and some other fast food spots before I landed a job working in a fine dining restaurant.

It was a fancy place, especially for me coming over from fast food. Award winning cesar salads, banana fosters tableside–that sort of thing. It was just a really high end waiting experience and I was blessed to have the opportunity. I eventually worked my way up to captain of the entire dining room.

After that, I moved into the nightlife side of hospitality. I managed bars and nightclubs for a while and built up experience in that side of the industry. Then, about 20 years ago, I decided to move to Spain.

Did you stick with hospitality once you moved to Spain?

Sergio: I actually started working in the fashion world pretty much immediately when I got here. At the time hip-hop culture and American streetwear brands were blowing up in Spain. So, as an American guy, it was easy for me to get into that industry doing marketing and promotion.

I spent about ten years doing that before everything got super corporate and I decided to leave. After that, I worked on some hospitality related business ventures but I wasn’t crazy about it.

Then, I booked a DJ gig one day during the pandemic at Radio Nossa. That’s when I met these fine folks and we just hit it off; I’ve been working with them ever since. 

I was interested in getting back into the bar business but it was really these guys and the bar itself that sparked my interest. It kind of draws you in. They’ve created such an open and cool atmosphere here that it’s a magnet for people with any kind of vibe. I couldn’t help it, once I got here, I just wanted to stay. So, I begged them to keep me and, luckily, they did.

Selam, what about your history in hospitality before opening a bar of your own?

Selam: Well, like I said, my first job was in fast food, at a Burger King. Working in the drive through really taught me some important lessons about humanity. After Burger King, I got into fashion/modeling and did that for a while before I went off to university. 

When I was in university, I worked as a server in a high end fine dining restaurant for a few months. There was a lady that I worked with there named Cindy who I’ll never forget. She taught me everything, it was a real trial by fire–military style. I’ve never been yelled at like that before.

Then, about nine years ago, I moved to Spain. When I got here, I started working with nightclubs. The company I worked for did the online ticketing for a lot of big clubs here in Barcelona and had their own promotional team as well. 

So, I worked with them for a while before I branched started doing events on my own. I was doing weddings, bachelor and bachelorette parties, things like that.

Then I met Suji, the third owner here at Radio Nossa, when I booked him to DJ an event. We got on really well, so we started doing more events together. It was just a really strong partnership from the beginning and we’ve always been on the same page about things.

Is that when you decided to open a bar together?

Selam: No, we were actually doing bar pop-ups around Barcelona. We’d take over someone else’s bar for the week or a weekend and do our own concept in their space. But, it wasn’t ideal. It was alway somebody else’s space so they would start fiddling with things when they shouldn’t be.

After dealing with that kind of thing over and over again, we decided that opening our own bar would give us control over everything. We thought it was better to take that risk then continue dealing with other people, who can be unreliable. 

So, we looked, found this space, and opened Radio Nossa at the end of 2019, three months before covid hit.

How has the pandemic affected you as new bar owners?

Selam: Barcelona had a lot of restrictions and they were incredibly hard to follow–they’d change from one week to the next. So that made it difficult to really have a long term strategy for the first year and a half. 

When we could be open, we tried to create a fun atmosphere that helped people forget about all the craziness going on outside. It was important to us to operate like business as usual as much as we could. But as new bar owners, it was really challenging because we were trying to establish a consistent clientele in the middle of everything.

Also, people stigmatized the bars as spaces where people spread or caught covid. I thought that was unfair because we were the only industry that was singled out in that way.

When things came back to normal, did you adjust your strategy?

Sergio: From my point of view, not really. Like I said, this place just has an undeniable vibe and that already existed before the pandemic. It’s a cool concept run by fun people so we just opened the doors and started doing what we did before. A lot of people missed this place so it didn’t take long for it to start filling up again.

What’s the concept behind Radio Nossa–why put a radio station in a bar?

Selam: Well, Suji actually started the project years ago in New York. He started putting on music events focused on creating a strong community, then eventually he started the online radio station that does music as well as political interest shows. 

So when we decided to open a bar, it made perfect sense for us to build the concept around that. It makes us unique. We have a more interesting experience to offer than your average bar in our neighborhood so we’re able to create a community through the concept and music.

As a special treat for Hosco’s readers, Radio Nossa's Sergio “Lone Wolf” Lopez created a DJ mix specifically for this article. Have a listen by clicking on the image below while you read the rest of the interview.

What’s your philosophy regarding customer service in a hospitality setting?

Sergio: Well, I think our place stands out because we have a North American approach to service. In Spain, the hospitality can be pretty terrible at times and a lot of people just get used to it. But we try to engage with our customers and make them feel special. We don’t work for tips here but we act like we do and provide a top notch experience anyways. I think that’s why we attract so many western expats, it’s a type of service they recognize from home.

How do you transmit that philosophy to new bartenders when you hire them?

Sergio: The stress test! It’s just a matter of giving them a stressful situation in their interview. I had one girl draw a picture of Selam while I was asking her random, quickfire questions. “Do you like the beach or the mountains?”, things like that. 

Bar patrons can be really weird and ask strange questions sometimes so they have to be able to handle that. So, we do the stress test to see how they’ll react in that type of situation.

Selam: It’s about crowd control. You have to be confident behind the bar. If it’s busy and someone is causing problems, you’ve got to be able to tell them to take a hike because they’re killing the vibe. It’s a small room here so there’s no space for people to be acting like drunk idiots. A good bartender has to be in control of the room at all times.

What's been your favorite part about opening a bar?

Selam: Meeting lots of new people. Especially during the pandemic, it was a great way to meet people from different places when we couldn’t really travel. Or the way that neighbors become your regulars and then eventually friends. I love those connections and creating a space where strangers can come together from different backgrounds.

Sergio: I agree 100%.

And what’s the most challenging part?

Selam: Not being an alcoholic. 

Sergio: Yeah, and the complaints from neighbors.

In terms of preparation, what was it like opening a bar here in Barcelona?

Selam: I know that it’s a bit more difficult here than in some other countries. In Spain, it's really important to get a good business manager who can help you throughout the process and once you’re open. They’ll handle all of the administrative paperwork for you so you can focus on finding a place and creating your overall strategy.

But, no matter what, you’ll never be fully prepared for everything that will come your way. 

If you could describe your love of your job in one word, what would it be?

Sergio: People!

Selam: Community.

Sergio: Wait, can I change mine to music?


Working in a bar can be a lot of fun for the right type of person, especially if you work for owners like the team from Radio Nossa. And, if opening a bar has always been a dream of yours, getting some work experience will make that dream much easier to achieve. Check out the open bar positions available on Hosco and find your dream job today.



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