The world is small for Robert Chaves. He was born and grew up in Sáo Paulo, Brazil, and today the 43-year-old works as a successful businessman in Mallorca. His much-awarded organic gourmet salt Llum de Sal is exported from the island to several countries around the globe. Recently he opened a branch office in Sardinia with his Italian business partner.
In his youth he probably never dreamed of one day becoming part of a cosmopolitan business community. “After my graduation I followed in my father´s footsteps and began a military career,” Chaves says. But in the long run his creative skills proved to be stronger. A friend who ran a cinema helped him to take over several small cinemas in São Paulo, which he still runs. “I love the movies. But the Hollywood blockbusters never really grabbed my attention, I preferred the non-commercial local and foreign avant-garde directors. And these productions are mainly scheduled at my cinemas.”
Some seven years ago Chaves spontaneously decided to visit his brother in Menorca: “I come from a large family. At home we were nine brothers and sisters and the bonds between every one of us are still very strong.” What should have been a short trip to Europe somehow transformed into an extended stay of two years. Chaves got to know German woman Katja Wöhr and they started a relationship. And there was even more than “only” love: Together they founded their own company of organic gourmet sea salt production.
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Stop! How could a soldier who became a cinema owner mutate into a salt farmer? “I have a versatile personality. The only job I could never have done is sell vacuum cleaners,” he laughs. “Harvesting pure organic salt, a very natural product, fascinated me from the very beginning.” For him salt is the essence of life, “under the condition of maintaining its original form or of refining it only with pure natural essences.”
Two years ago Katja and Robert broke up, but Chaves stayed on the island and kept his business running. On the south-eastern coast of Mallorca, in the Salines de Colonia Sant Jordi, he continues to harvest his Llum de Sal. This is also where the salt is refined. It´s not an easy task, because the precious sea salt or the so-called salt blossoms (in Spanish “flor de sal”) only appear on hot and windless days, visible as a very thin layer on the water surface.
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It’s harvested by hand with a wooden scoop, the so-called “lousse”, at daybreak. After that the salt is spread out and dried under the sun. Later it´s packaged in beautifully designed black boxes and delivered to the sales points. Gourmet chefs like Marc Fosh from Simply Fosh appreciate its exquisite taste, dominated by calcium and magnesium sulfide – ingredients missing in ordinary cooking salt.
Chaves now offers 27 different flavours of salt. He runs a showroom and a restaurant in Santanyí, where the customers are offered product samples. Soon he will also open a deli bar at the market square, where he plans to offer his salt, several deli products, wine and other beverages.
We are curious about the idea to expand the gourmet salt business to Sardinia. “At one of the monthly abcBusiness Club lunches, I met an Italian guy who was enthusiastic about my business idea. We became friends and as he was from Sardinia, he proposed producing the salt in Sardinia also.” Six months later the project Llum de Sal Sardinia started. Chaves: “We’re selling the salt in several deli shops in the city of Cagliari and at the local airport. The sea salt blossoms sold in Sardinia also come from Sardinia.”
How about a Southern American adapting to the European way of life? “I don´t think that people are basically different in any parts of the world. The biggest difference between Southern Americans and Europeans is the importance of the family.” Step by step he brought his parents and other relatives with him to Mallorca. Since his father’s passing he’s shared his home with his mother. “My family is highly important to me. It can never disrupt my own life – a concept which many Europeans probably don´t share.”
And how about the native Mallorcans? “They are proud and courageous people, in a desperate struggle to defend and protect their own identity against the different cultures coming to the island over the centuries.” Robert understands very well, why the Mallorcans cling to their language: “Catalan or Mallorquín is the only piece that remained, the core of their identity, their originality.” On the other hand he´s worried about local politics putting too much emphasis on Catalan at schools and university: “The Mallorcans´ prosperity comes from tourism only – thus from people from different countries and with different languages.
These people decided to spend their holidays on this island. That´s why I really don´t understand why the teachers are told to teach almost only in Catalan. It should be much more important to learn other foreign languages, to give a plus to future generations so they can survive in the tourism business.” Robert has his own universal philosophy: “In the end we all live together in the same village. It´s called planet earth and it´s a wonderful place.”
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