If there is one word that stands out after meeting Phil of MASMAS++, that word is community. The evolution of his project was very organic. Phil opened (and 10 years later sold) a café in Castelldefels. Though it could be said that his primary accomplishment was finding ways to bring people together in meaningful ways. MASMAS++ is more than just a coffee shop.
In 2007, Phil Kersley-Baker was coaching rugby, working in chiringuitos (beach huts) and doing odd jobs. He found himself tutoring the children of a Dutch family. Their father was an expert in youth marketing. Tutoring sessions eventually turned into beers on the sofa, then invitations to family dinner and a friendship was born. They began to question, what is there for young people to do in Castelldefels? Why is it that usually some older person is in charge of deciding what young people want and creating spaces and events for them? Then a plan was born. They would ask teens directly what they want. Phil set off on his own marketing campaign. He interviewed his rugby team, friends, neighbors and questioned strangers in the town square, Plaza Iglesia.
Phil opened in 2010 with the slogan ‘a place for young people by young people’. There was a young sugary menu, board games and video games available to borrow. They had a large book shelf where you could leave or take a book. The walls exhibited art created by local youth. The events hosted catered to their interests. Phil found himself with many great learning opportunities on his hands. Managing a team, keeping the peace amongst the youngsters, organising events, keeping the neighbors happy, and learning how to make a small business thrive financially.
Instagram was released in 2010 but was not widely used in Spain yet. By 2012, Phil says things drastically changed. The scene that follows is one we are all too familiar with. Kids came in but they were no longer socialising with one another but with people on their phones. Phil called it fake sociability. Thus, the MASMAS++ project further evolved into ‘the offline home for the online generation’. They attempted to look for creative ways to encourage the kids to connect with one another. However, there was an issue that was becoming a problem. The social conflicts that started in the local high schools were leaking their way into the space. Kids who were bullies at school, became the bullies of MASMAS++.
Phil felt he needed to change the scene to reinvent his space. While he still enjoyed very much working with young people, he felt he could expand his target market to re-energize the space. Phil started organising more social events. He recalled with fondness his favorite event from his years at MASMAS++. They arranged a comically creative speed dating night. They prompted people to draw silly images of each other with their eyes closed or pretend they had been dating for years and had to perform a dramatic breakup. Not the usual tasks you tackle on a first date! While it’s unclear if anyone met their soulmate that night, he was certain new friendships had been forged.
One day an older man walks into the cafe. Phil describes his unease as the man came to the bar to talk to him. He assumed it was a neighbor wanting to complain about the ruckus of the young crowds. Unaware of Phil’s discomfort, the old man launched into a story about the day he met his wife. They were dancing the local Catalan Sardana dance in the town square and he was a playful young man. So, his dance partner called him a pirate (pirata in Spanish). The name stuck even years later after they got married and had children together. Phil says this man helped him understand that adults can be young people too. Vicente kept coming in every day, he invited his friends. They named the outdoor courtyard after this man, Vicente ‘El Pirata’ Valiente (Vicente, the Brave Pirate). When he passed away some years later they held a reception for his family in the garden.
Phil and his Dutch partner kept in contact throughout the years. Eventually he put Phil in touch with two young men from city of Groningen. They were hoping to open a café for young people. These two entrepreneurial young men came and trained at MASMAS++ for a month. Phil gave them weekly objectives. One would be assigned to designing and promoting an event or working on the menu. The other had to get 200 people to join the Facebook page and work on the budget. The mentoring experience was a success, and in 2015 they opened MASMAS++ in Groningen. With a touch of nostalgia, Phil confessed that this café in Groningen achieved the vibes they never did in Castelldefels. It truly was a haven for young people and is still thriving today.
Phil has learned many valuable lessons. He says amongst the top are don’t do everything yourself – it’s not always easier that way. Also: don't forget your bottom line! After 10 years of running MASMAS++, Phil had an unexpected emergency that took him back home and he needed to leave others in charge. Once he was away, he says it became clear he was not coming back to the business. He sold it, and the MASMAS++ chapter was over for Phil Kersley-Baker.
After selling MASMAS++, he wrestled with the idea of opening another place, or opting for a ‘normal job’. One where he could work fixed hours and let someone else put out all the fires for a change. Eventually he decided to pursue another project in hospitality. Right before COVID turned the world upside down, he had found a new project and a new partner, and he was scouting out locales in Barcelona. He felt attracted to the anonymity of being in the big city after a decade in Castelldefels. They decided to pull out in the midst all the COVID uncertainty, but the project remains parked, not cancelled. I have no doubt whatever Phil opens will become a meaningful community center to those who go there. Just as MASMAS++ has been to the locals of Castelldefels.
1. What was your favorite childhood food?
Mums curry cottage pies.
2. The strangest thing I ever ate was:
An assortment of foods in Chinatown in Manchester.
3. The dish I eat the night I don’t want to cook is:
4. Describe a regular moment in your life that brings you joy:
Watching Rugby. Beer, friends and food.