Croatian Top Burger Brand: Submarine’s Recipe for Success

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According to the founders of Submarine, the top Croatian craft burger restaurant chain, a burger doesn’t have to be exclusively fast food. It can be enjoyed slowly as a delicious and balanced meal on a plate at a table accompanied by loved ones, a dog or good music. Their company is growing year after year and will finish 2019 with 32 Million HRK in revenue.

Largest Croatian Brand of Craft Burgers

As Boris Orešić/Novac/JutarnijList reports on November 15, 2019; a burger can also be savored in a space decorated to attract attention. If anyone is interested in seeing how their burger is made, they can look right into the kitchen, which is not separated by walls or partitions, but part of a well-designed environment complete with yellow accents. Submarine’s newest restaurant on Tkalčićeva ulica opened about a month and a half ago and is the sixth to open in Zagreb. Add another Submarine in Rijeka and that makes seven in Croatia. In fact, there are eight, because another restaurant in Zagreb exclusively prepares meals for delivery throughout the city.

There are also two Submarines in Belgrade. Little by little, Submarine has become the largest chain of craft burger restaurants, not only in Croatia but throughout the entire region. And soon there will be yet another.

Croatian Co-owner and CEO Dragoljub Božović, one of the founders of the entire project, reveals to us that they are opening a restaurant in Trešnjevka and on Nova cesta near the Doma sportova.

It all started in June 2014, when they opened the first restaurant on Frankopanska ulica in Zagreb.

They say that they enjoy exploring different kinds of locations, like the restaurant on Tkalčićeva, which is in a popular pedestrian zone heavily dependent on tourists and located in downtown Zagreb. It is housed in an older building, which provides a specific charm and the feel of a hut made of natural materials. The yellow pipe typography of the sign has become a recognizable symbol for the brand as it appears at all Submarine locations and in original messages on walls. “Don’t panic, it’s organic,” reads one, and is the obviously the message that guests like the most. Music from Submarine radio plays from speakers.


Luka Jureško/Operations Director and Dragoljub Božović/Co-Owner and General Director at Submarine | Photo Credit: Darko Tomaš/CROPIX

Complete Brand Experience

 “We want our guests to have a pleasant experience at Submarine; one that is more than just gastronomic. Music is a very important component, so we agreed to partner with Yammat FM, which arranges our music playlist. The playlist, updated daily, features Croatian and international music that we identify with: urban, cheerful and positive. All seven Croatian Submarine restaurants play the same music from this exclusive radio program 24 hours a day. To further introduce ourselves to our guests, we offer voice content and programs in addition to music,” explains operations director Luka Jureško, 38, who joined the Submarine team two and a half years ago. As a political scientist, he previously worked mostly in public relations.

Dragoljub Božović, 38, from Rijeka, reveals that he is an economist who, before joining Submarine, was mainly involved in sales and had no experience in the restaurant industry. Along with Alexander Lazinic, he came up with the idea of ​​opening a burger restaurant, and moved to Zagreb where he has enjoyed considerable success.

“While traveling around the world, we realized that the restaurant scene was beginning to change, and that people were increasingly eager to enjoy simple food in a comfortable atmosphere. The fast and casual dining concept provides guests with quick relaxed service provided by servers in a format like a traditional restaurant. Basically, we offer three basic types of dishes: burgers, fries and salads. Our concept was to use only local foods. A burger does not have to be a bad quality meal at all. We wanted to offer meals that I would want my child to eat. Our guests understood this very quickly. Once the restaurant on Frankopanska was well established, we started to expand, which has been our goal from the very beginning,” says Božović.

From Croatian Farm to Table

Regarding the question of non-Croatian menu offerings; avocado is the short and clear answer. Tuna, he adds, is also unfortunately not from Croatia because Adriatic tuna is exported. We source our beef from Croatian farms, potatoes from Lika, cheese from Ludbreg, sausage from Slavonia, truffles from Istria, and pancetta from the Dalmatian hinterland.

They work with about ten family businesses. This year, they have already ordered 150 tons of potatoes and have cooked around two million burgers in five years. They only use Zvijezda mayonnaise without preservatives. Their menu must be of superior quality, they insist. Therefore, this kind of burger doesn’t go for HRK 20. At first, their guests were mostly young people. However, as they successfully spread the word that a burger can be a healthy meal; people of all ages, and often families with children, began to arrive. On Sundays, the children’s menus are free of charge.

They called themselves Yellow Submarine at first, and they chose that name precisely because of their favorite Beatles song. They wanted to obtain a copyright for that name, but that idea did not garner the approval from the owner of the Beatles copyright. Therefore, they removed “Yellow” from the name, although the company is still called Yellow Submarine.


Submarine on Radnička ulica in Zagreb | Photo Credit: Submarine

Steady Continued Growth

After opening the flagship restaurant on Frankopanska in 2015, they opened a second restaurant in Radnička ulica; then one in Belgrade. They tell us that they wanted to see how their concept would work in business zones and abroad. In both instances, they have been successful.

By 2016, they began operating restaurants on Slavonska avenija in Žitnjak, on Bogovićeva ulica and then on Marulićeva ulica in Rijeka. In 2018, they opened another Submarine on Bukovačka ulica in Maksimir.

“From the very beginning, we wanted to support small Croatian producers and have been sourcing domestic products, which guarantees quality. Therefore, we have hired a logistics company which has a warehouse in Sveta nedjelja, and groceries come from all our suppliers go there first. Then they are distributed to our restaurants,” Božović continues, adding that they currently have one hundred employees: most of them chefs, servers and restaurant managers.

They still manage to find employees in Croatia. However, the available workforce in the Croatian restaurant industry is lacking and they are seriously considering hiring employees from abroad; most likely from the Philippines, Nepal, and Syria. Even in business, they are open-minded and free-spirited by nature.

“We hope that the VAT for the restaurant industry will drop to 13 percent next year, at which point we’ll immediately increase wages. And we understand how important our associates are to our business. We regularly organize various training and team building sessions and breakfast meetings for our employees where we can discuss everything. Our employees thrive if they have desire, will and ambition. A server and chef can become a shift chef or restaurant manager. The restaurant industry can be extremely stressful and there isn’t any time of the year for rest,” Jureško points out, adding that they are busiest from spring to fall, when the terraces are open. However, they did extremely well during the Advent season last year.

The tourist season, in fact, now lasts almost the entire year in Zagreb, with a small pause from mid-January to the end of March. They are proud of the fact that a well-known international web site ranked them among the top 50 burger restaurants in the world according to strict criteria.

Competition Welcome

 “In recent years, a lot of craft burger bars have been opened in Zagreb and Croatia. In the meantime, some have also closed. Many have survived, however, and it is in our interest to have as many as possible and have a rich varied burger scene. We do not view others as hostile competition; quite the opposite. Today, a guest may eat a burger with us; tomorrow with someone else. The burger scene is growing all over the world. In London, for example, it increased by ten per cent last year. This scene is not a bubble, obviously. However, it isn’t enough to offer any kind of pastry, burger, salad or sauce; but to offer quality and consistency, and not deviate,” claims Jureško. Božović adds that the burger is comparable to pizza in that demand will continue to grow.

Therefore, he believes, it is realistic that new burger restaurants will continue to open and expand. And Submarine does not intend to stop expanding. Their income and number of employees grows from year to year. Last year, they made about HRK 20 million, and this year they expect to end up with income of HRK 32 or 33 million. They plan to continue to grow in the coming year and will invest most of their profits in expanding their business. Currently, they rent their spaces as they want to focus on the restaurant industry; not on real estate.


Submarine on Bogovićeva ulica in Zagreb | Photo Credit: Submarine

Location, Location, Location!

“We know what we want and how to be good at it. The restaurant industry is generally profitable. There is a lot of investment in this industry around the world because it often provides a quick return. We want to build a significant business. Next year we will open our very first neighborhood restaurant on Nova cesta, and there should be three more by the end of the year, and not just in Zagreb. We would like to open a Submarine in Split and Osijek and preferably in one more city in Dalmatia, perhaps Zadar or Šibenik. We are actively searching for Croatian locations, but it isn’t that easy to find space in a desirable location and for that there is no compromise. We have a solid brand and concept, and if you choose the right location, there is no cause for concern. We would like to have about twenty restaurants running in Croatia over the next few years. There are certainly opportunities in Karlovac, Varaždin, Pula, and Dubrovnik. Our goal is to expand our delivery service so that it covers all of Zagreb. We started delivering over a month ago and demand is very strong. It is becoming increasingly normal for people to order everything online and have the product they want arrive at their doorstep. This is a trend we simply cannot ignore and strive to be the best in it. Having quality partners is an essential key to our success,” Božović says, pointing out that they are partnering with a number of distinguished Croatian chefs, who are involved in creating new recipes, dishes and menus.

Top Croatian Chef Partners

Among the more prominent names are “MasterChef” winner Denis Zembo, two-star Michelin chef Mario Bernatović, TJ Caparas who has three Michelin stars, famous Croatian chef Mate Janković, and Lana Klingor; who is also known as “sLANA KUHArica.”

Their menu consistently offers the five same burgers. The additional three vary depending on the season. The most popular burger is the crispy smoked bacon burger with the so-called barbecue sauce. Also notable are the French fries, which are hand washed, cut and enriched with various accessories and sauces. Guests especially like the truffle fries with Grana Padano cheese, which became a best-seller shortly after they debuted. From day one, they have made their own mayonnaise-based sauces, which they use for both fries and burgers.

“People want an experience. They want to enjoy themselves, and they know they will with us. And, that is priceless, “says Jureško, adding that they are constantly following the guests’ comments and feedback on social networks so that they can respond immediately if something is not right.

Dogs Are Welcome

They also are happy to point out that dogs are welcomed in their establishments, of course, provided they are decent, which is also true of humans. They also plan to offer a special dog menu soon.

“Everything starts with me. Just as I wanted a restaurant where my child would feel good, so I want my dog ​​to be comfortable and to cultivate good relationships with everyone. The goal is for everyone to feel good. We have traveled around the world and observed what others are doing. We saw a lot of different styles but haven’t copied anyone. It was challenging at first, because we were learning the business and it was not easy to consolidate our suppliers. Standardization is a big challenge. Like the bureaucracy,” says Božović, who is disturbed by the fact that restauranteurs in Croatia often get a bad rap.

His enthusiasm for this business has not wavered, he admits, and he’s been able to impart that energy to his associates, many of whom he has befriended, because they spend many hours working, socializing and having fun together.


Kitchen activity at the Submarine on Tkalčićeva ulica in Zagreb | Photo Credit: Darko Tomaš/CROPIX

Further Expansion

Their success, he claims, is due to the team’s enthusiasm and hard work. He also reveals to us that they have already received many inquiries from abroad from people who would like to open Submarine franchises in various countries: from Germany, Italy, Sweden and Norway, to Qatar, Dubai and countries from the Far East. In the foreseeable future, this kind of expansion appeals to them. But for now, they want to stabilize their business and establish themselves a little more in the domestic arena. They plan to proceed step by step, without rushing, and will carefully consider their next business moves.

If everything goes according to plan, Submarine, an original Croatian brand, could become recognizable far beyond the borders of our country, but only on the condition that all restaurants maintain consistent offerings and quality. Today, that objective is no longer just a dream.

For more information on successful Croatian companies, follow our business section here. For information on restaurants in Croatia, follow our lifestyle section here.

To find a Submarine near you or order online, go here. And you can listen to their radio station here.



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