Croatia’s Foreign Entrepreneurs: Adena, From New York to Zagreb via Hvar

Total Croatia News

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March 20, 2018 – Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs trying to make it in Croatia, meet Adena Lavin, who is bringing a little New York style to the Zagreb gourmet scene. 

1. First and foremost, why Croatia?

Why Croatia when I first came here? It was serendipitous – there was no real reason. I first came in 2013 to Hvar Island. It was after I went through a major life event, and I decided to go on an extended trip throughout Europe. I was living in France at the time when I decided to come to Hvar for a few days, which turned into me staying 6 weeks and running a small pop-up restaurant out of my apartment. During that time we did quite well, so I was offered a space in town through a friend for the 2014 season. After a tough first season – it was my first time running my own place and in a foreign country! – I regrouped with my partner at the time and we crushed it 2015 season. 50 existed in Hvar from 2014 – 2016, for a total of 3 seasons. After the third season, I decided to move the business to Zagreb where I felt I could grow the business more consistently and with long-term goals. The move to Zagreb was the best thing I did for my business, myself, and my sanity.

Why I’ve stayed? I believe it is one of the most challenging and interesting countries to conduct business in. It’s challenging due to the lack of information regarding everything from permits to employment to taxes. As we all know, it takes a mountain of paperwork to get anything completed here, and even then it’s a 50/50 chance it won’t be right! No one suggested me to come to Croatia. My parents weren’t even very aware of Croatia existing post-war. I am stubborn and curious and in spite all the strange business procedures I had to follow I’ve decided to stay.

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INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?

I own a restaurant in Zagreb, 50, a Champagne and Burger Bar. It’s my second restaurant in Croatia in my 5 years here. First one was in Hvar for 3 years, and the Zagreb one is coming up on its birthday April 6.

It was always a pipe dream of mine as a child to own a little bakery or restaurant. My family nor myself ever took it seriously as I never went to study cooking officially or worked extensively in them when I was younger. I was however always a hustler. I remember always selling odd things here and there, having some business in the works, or making some product to sell.

My profession is restaurants. I’m not comfortable with ‘restaurateur’ as I don’t believe I’ve earned the title yet. Why restaurants…I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. But I love it.

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2. Tell us about some of the differences of your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.

I didn’t have many expectations. I figured it would be a little vague and uncertain as everything just seems a bit off. I never expected the amount of paperwork, signatures, declarations, time waiting, and illogical requirements.

For instance, the amount of paperwork to the open a company and legal fees are insane. It costs about 3k – 5k euro to open a d.o.o here including the minimum capital investment, meanwhile, it costs anywhere between $100-$750 USD with the capital investment to create an equivalent entity to D.O.O.

I really hope Croatian rules and regulations will be more “foreigner friendly” soon, as I know some people who’d like to open nice places in Croatia but they’ve heard about the procedures and they are rather suspicious.

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3. What (if any) bureaucratic issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

Ha. Wow, that’s a big question. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a bad or scarring experience bureaucratically, but I’ve had endless amounts of information I could never get a straight answer to. One of the biggest things (I guess you could call it a lesson and thus advice), I’ve come to understand that I won’t know everything, it most likely will not get done in the time frame you expect or plan for, let alone on the first time. I’ve learned patience and understanding while doing business here and that’s a major lesson I’m grateful for. It’s been an uphill battle but I’m slowly internalizing ‘pomalo.’ Can you tell I lived in Hvar for 3 years? 

4. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

Well, seems pretty good so far. Our product was adored by guests in Hvar, but those were mostly tourist. We had quite a few local patrons as well. It’s been a challenge with certain specificities of the food offering. We’ve been going through a lot of education both internally and along with our guests. It’s been an enjoyable journey so far.

The restaurant is coming up on its one year anniversary on April 6, so we’re very excited for that. When we first opened, we were swamped. Totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of guests. Thankfully, we had a lot of positive feedback! Those first few weeks were so stressful, and we were working like crazy. I think after opening week the entire team came down with a debilitating cold and we had to close for a day because literally the entire team of 11 had a fever! I’d never seen that before! An entire team, on their own, just killing themselves to do the absolute best job. We were far from perfect, but it was a great show and I was very proud of them that whole first month.

A lot of guests were coming because, well I’m really not sure why as we hadn’t done much marketing or promotion prior to the opening. But I’m sure it was ultimately because they heard about a new place in Zagreb with a NY flair. We actually are starting a feedback system to get to understand our patrons better because of our lack of understanding. See, another learning moment! I’m sure there was a lot of curiosity around the burger and champagne combination.

We work on our menus seasonally and soon we’ll introduce Spring Menu with some interesting dishes. We also offer a gluten-free meals and gluten-free beer.


5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

My friends at home already loved Croatia, so they were more than thrilled to hear I would be living there. Especially in Hvar! My father passed away knowing I would be opening a restaurant on the beautiful island of Hvar, of which he visited when he was my age. I opened the business with my fiancé at the time. We met a girl during our time in Zagreb and her and I got on really well and I felt she was a good fit for us. Since she was local, we were able to overtime use her to help translate things for us and get the paperwork done. Without her or huge legal fees, I don’t know how we would have done it. My fiancé is not with me anymore and the girl who was helping us is also gone. Although it was a bit confusing when they left our business, and I am really grateful for all their help, continuing on my own is the best thing which could happen in terms of long-term growth in these years.

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6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

There are always many challenges when you enter new, unknown market. In Dalmatia, local people are not so open to foreigners and very closed within their local community. It is very difficult to become a part of their lives. It is not easy to start your business while being naïve and new on the Croatian market. Zagreb is heaven compared to down there, but it still has its challenges. Such as more city regulation that is actually enforced, but there is at least a clearer path to execution in Zagreb than in Hvar.

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(50 stand at Fuliranje, Advent in Zagreb)

7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

Haha oof. Um, that’s a hard question. Yes, I would have come but I would have come with a much different strategy.

I would have partnered with a local in Hvar. I would have hired an official translator on the payroll from the beginning to translate everything for me so there was never any confusion. I would have gone above and beyond to do everything on white and not listened or trusted any locals except my partner.

8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

a. Nature
b. Large offering in a small country (nature, food, climate, culture, architecture, language)
c. Dog-friendly 

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9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?

a. Foreign investment tax incentives
b. Employee tax breaks for new businesses – lower employee taxes so as to stop rewarding low salaries with low taxes while heavily taxing the company should it want to pay its employees a liveable (6,000 kn NETTO monthly) salary.

10. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

a. It’s been a learning process. I’ve loved the process of learning how best to work with and manage people from a new culture.

11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

a. Have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. Research your market extensively, and understand the regional market as well. Determine the lifestyle you want to garner from your endeavour. Make friends – its very hard to get anything done without friends here. The community is very strong here – one of my favourite attributes of Croatia.

You can follow 50, a Champagne and Burger Bar in Zagreb on Facebook.

Are you a foreign entrepreneur in Croatia who would like to be featured in this series? Please contact us at [email protected] 


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