Maria Gutiérrez, the bookbinder of the great restaurants

Maria Gutiérrez started as an apprentice in a small handmade bookbinding business in the Old Quarter of Girona. It has been nearly 50 years since then and in all these years he has not stopped reinventing himself, and has managed to make his business more alive than ever in a trade that seemed extinct. This is the great feat of this 62-year-old entrepreneur who is proud to have bound books for the Spanish royal family, for Pope John Paul II, for the US presidential family, Kennedy, or for Amancio Ortega himself, owner of Zara.What is binding?It is the fact of sewing folds or notebooks of text and putting them as covers. The customer brings us the original of the work or manuscript they want, and we make the cover and the entire outside of the book. Naturally, our work is artisanal and nowadays the craft is considered extinct in the big publishing houses, but we continue to make bindings for different clients who are looking for high quality, personalized work and differentiation -se of everything and everyone. You know the trade at Auca, a small bookbinder in the Old Quarter of Girona. In 1968 Joan Roqueta had a binding company. He was a small craftsman from whom I learned everything I know. We had clients from Girona and also from outside and we were known for the quality of the bindings. Back then we received a commission from the Kennedy family to make a family photo album. We still don’t know how the order got to us from the USA at a time when there were no e-mails, no websites, nothing! Surely a person very close to the family of the American politicians who was summering on the Costa Brava contacted us. And we did the binding of this family photo album.

It is not usual for a bookbinder from Girona to have the Kennedy family as customers…

And the trust he gave us, because he thinks they left us all the originals, that is, all the family photos. It was a challenge, yes it is true, but I also have to tell you that we did it the same way we treat all our customers. Craftsmanship, high quality and totally exclusive. It’s our way of working. After 15 years you create your own bookbinding workshop… When the owner of Auca retired, I decided to create Encapça, a cooperative created from a job placement program of the Girona City Council. But it was not easy to find staff, because here we are talking about learning a trade and skills are needed. It’s not a profession like any other, you can learn it. In the bookbinding world, if there are no skills, it is impossible for you to learn the trade.

A few years of changes are coming, the digital world, but you maintain your commitment to the job of bookbinder.

He thinks that we had done the binding of the Aranzadi judgment books, for the Civil Registry, the acts of the Parliament of Catalonia, jobs by official bodies, but little by little this artisanal side disappeared and we had to retrain. Recycle or close. I started going to fairs and a customer from one of the best restaurants in Perpignan came to me, who wanted us to bind the restaurant’s menu. A very complicated job, because it had to be done on parchment. They were very happy and another customer from a restaurant in the north of France came to us from here, and that’s when we started making letters for restaurants. It was the 90s, a new job that you didn’t know about and you managed to make a name for yourself in the field of haute restoration.

Great restaurants ask you to make their menus.

I have never been able to say no to a client. They have brought me things that at first I thought I would not be able to do and in the end I have done them and the clients are very satisfied. Now there is a boom in haute cuisine and it seems that it is common to find exclusive, unique and artisanal restaurant menus. But in the late 80s and early 90s it was a novelty and I was a pioneer in this field. I began to specialize in this world, making cards for large restaurants and luxury hotels that wanted to add value to their establishment. Restaurants both here and outside. Seeing a sample of the jobs you have done, there are currently many great restaurants.

Have you benefited from this haute restoration boom?

Of course it has benefited me, but I also believe that my work brings them added value. Otherwise, they wouldn’t. We have clients such as Àbac, de Jordi Cruz, Nandu Jubany, Carles Gaig, Pepe Rodríguez del Bohío, Berasategui, Lakasa, the A’Barra group and Bo.TiC from Girona, among many others. Sometimes the designer wants certain things but he always listens to my judgement. Customers give us a lot of creative freedom and that is fundamental. Think that the letter is one of the first cards of introduction when you sit in a restaurant. And with a quality product, which takes care of all the details, and craftsmanship, the customer begins to have an experience. And this is increasingly valued and our client knows it. Just as your cuisine is different and unique, so should your menu. You can’t find a menu like you can have at a fast food franchise. This must also be exclusive. But this boom has a limit.

Because we are artisans, you cannot take all the orders that may come your way.

Of course! We are an artisan company that, as I told you, we do everything piece by piece. If we wanted to cover everything, many of our customers wouldn’t either because we would stop being artisans. This type of customer is also not looking to make thousands and thousands of copies. They are looking for exclusive, unique things, and that is what we know how to do. A printing press can print 100,000 copies in a day, while we will need two weeks to make 100. The customer who comes to our house already knows this. In fact, it’s one of the things he comes home for.

The job of bookbinder has almost disappeared.

Thanks to the hospitality theme you were able to keep it… He thinks that being a bookbinder is a craftsmanship job and it continues to be so today. Here we do everything by hand. And I do it mainly because I like my job. Sometimes I get commissioned to restore old books, and if you were to count the hours of work, it would not be a profitable job. But I enjoy doing what I do and many times I pinch my fingers because you never know how many hours it will take you to complete a certain job. It is done piece by piece. But it is true that the profession has disappeared and it is a shame. Studying is very good and necessary, but in our house we have a problem with professional training, because it has not been given the importance it has. Prepare for a job. It seemed like only fools should do FP and I think that will change now. People want to learn a trade, be a specialist or a master in a discipline. They are needed in the market.

For which personalities have you bound books?

As I told you, for the Kennedy family, Paul McCartney, for the Spanish royal family, Pope John Paul II, now we have made one for Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara, etc . But we can never sign our works. At most we put our logo, which is a hand.