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From Barbie to Barteca

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Ria Rueda
Ria Rueda.

“My father always taught me to be a go-getter,” said Ria Rueda, marketing director of the Norwalk-based Barteca Restaurant Group, which owns and operates the popular Barcelona Wine Bar and Bartaco restaurants throughout Connecticut and New York, and most recently, Atlanta.

Over the course of her career, Rueda has represented the likes of Dom Perignon, DeBeers, Salvatore Ferragamo and Clinique; served as a national spokesperson for Mattel Inc.’s Barbie dolls; and worked alongside Katie Couric as part of a national effort benefiting the National Colorectal Cancer Research Association.

The “go-getter” mentality led Rueda from a sales position with the Ritz-Carlton just outside Washington, D.C. to a major role with one of the top marketing firms in Los Angeles and ultimately to Norwalk, where she took a chance on Barteca, and Barteca took a chance on her by creating a marketing position specifically tailored to Rueda’s skills and experiences.

Rueda called her present role her dream job.

“There are not a lot of restaurant groups here that have PR people,” she said. “It’s not like New York or L.A. because they’re smaller so they can’t afford somebody, and trust me, it’s not like they were banging on my door saying, ‘We’ll pay you whatever.’”

While this position marks her introduction to the sometimes-brutal restaurant industry, Rueda, an admitted “foodie,” is passionate about the stylish sensibility and big-market ambition behind the Barteca group. That’s something she picked up over the last 20 years through her cross-country high-stakes career representing global luxury brands, making national television appearances and teaming up with the likes of Katie Couric.

“Each job took me to a different level,” Rueda says, adding, “I feel like I’ve gone full circle, so when I got my job here, the stars aligned.”

Initially, the New Canaan resident had no idea what to expect when she approached Barteca Restaurant Group CEO Andy Pforzheimer and Creative Director Sasa Mahr-Batuz to discuss a role within the company. Ultimately though, her father’s advice paid off and a key in-house position was created for Rueda.

Today, Rueda keeps busy with trips from Barteca’s small South Norwalk corporate office to meetings at the often filled-to-capacity Barcelona Wine Bars and Bartacos in South Norwalk, Stamford, Greenwich, New Haven, Fairfield, West Harford, Port Chester, N.Y., and Atlanta, while the company eyes at least three new openings this year.

Barteca Restaurant Group, a subsidiary of Barteca Holdings L.L.C., has announced plans to open locations in Washington, D.C., Boston and closer to home in Westport.

“The one thing that Sasa and Andy always want to stay true to is that they want it to be a neighborhood restaurant,” Rueda says. “You want to be able to cozy up at the bar, talk to Thalia, our bartender, and she knows exactly what you’re going to order or can introduce you to new things. And that’s the beauty of the restaurant philosophy and that’s what we want to maintain.”

Rueda notes that Barteca doesn’t hire agencies, host media dinners (“I get why they exist, but I personally would rather bring people in one-on-one”) or advertise in local publications (“the press will come”), but they do read comment cards “like the Bible,” she assures.

“The biggest excitement in my job,” Rueda says, “is keeping my restaurants that have been around for a long time still on the radar. That really invigorates my creative juices because when you’re new, everyone comes to you, but when you’ve been around for a while, you’ve got to work at that.”

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