The Bellamar catering college was founded in the 60s, during the tourist boom, to answer a need for properly trained kitchen staff to tend to the hordes of visitors that were already descending on the Costa del Sol.
The hotel businesses in the city organised two institutions, the Sindicato de Hostelería and the Cofradía Santa Marta. They had detected the need to channel many of the youngsters from the Serranía de Ronda area, who were unable to find jobs in agriculture, into catering. The first stumbling block of these entrepreneurs was to overcome the fears and prejudices of the families who were also unable to provide the wherewithal needed to send their children to work in the town.
The answer was “to create an institution that not only professionally trains, but also welcomes, protects and takes responsibility for the present and future of these young people. A reliable institution, protected by the State and financed with public funds,” explained Antonio Flores, director of the Bellamar catering college between 1989 and 2014.
The entrepreneurs presented the Ministry of Labour with an unprecedented project in Spain: a training centre with a hotel open to the public so that the students could practise. The idea convinced the government to form the then Programme of Professional Promotion of Workers (PPO), which opened the centre in the spring of 1967 by renting the small San Nicolás hotel with 50 rooms in Marbella.
Success came quickly and somewhat unexpectedly. The students were supervised by the teaching staff 365 days a year for 24 hours a day, which meant that they were also holding classes during the night.
After several years, and although the problem of unemployment had been considerably reduced in the region, the tourist pull demanded more and more professionals. New applicants began arriving from all over Spain.
The San Nicolás Hotel soon became too small so bigger premises were needed. In 1969 the college moved to the Hotel Bellamar. The hotel on Calle Pintor Pacheco had 70 rooms and an annex was added for use as a classroom and student residence with a capacity for 150 people. It is this annex that remains today as the hotel was closed in 1986 for a renovation that was never carried out.
Over the fifty years a total of around 35,000 professionals have been trained at the Bellamar catering college. The current director, Carmen Sánchez, recalls that among the alumni list, of which about 500 are foreigners, there are some well known people such as top chefs Diego del Río and Álvaro Árbeloa, co-owner of Ta-Kumi Restaurant.