Croatian Festival Organisers from Ontodei Turn to Beer Business

Lauren Simmonds

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As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, Croatian festival organisers have had an enormous amount of time to twiddle their thumbs and sit worrying about their futures as a result of the global pandemic. Some, however, have decided to branch out. The young entrepreneurs involved with the brands Saso Mange and Freemental are not giving up despite the dire circumstances, and this summer they started developing their second project, craft beer production.

The Saso Mange brewery was opened in Zagreb’s Gajnice on July the 1st this year, in which 1.5 million kuna and many hours of work in the former printing house have been invested so far. The first two beers, Saso Mange Hairy Blonde and Choppy Apa entered the Croatian market, through cafes and specialty stores, followed by a web shop with delivery options available.

The label is signed by artist Miro Zupa and designer Bojan Kanizaj, and the brand name Saso Mange comes from the Romani language and means “there is everything/ima svega”. Additional investments are already being made for the winter, and the plan is to connect the story with festivals, revealed Filip Ledinscak, the co-founder and director of Vopisada.

“Apart from the direct sales we’ve already started with, our plan is to have our own sales channel through the Freemental festival, which we hope will start up again next summer. Beer production and music festivals are related projects that have always been in our plans, but the pandemic has certainly affected the realisation and dynamics. As we decided to postpone the festival we were developing on Cres this summer, we’ve now decided to start with the brewery,” Ledinscak explained.

Along with him, his partners from Ontodei, Croatian festival organisers, Filip Filipi and Matija Santro, entered the beer business, while the fourth founder, Daniel Derencinovic, is the main production operator.

The whole entrepreneurial story started to mature about ten years ago, when they built their own soundsystem as sound engineers, which they rented to other festivals, and five years ago they decided to start their own. The coronavirus pandemic thus interrupted them in the increasingly serious project of the Freemental festival.

“On Cres, it turned out that we had a great product with good prospects. There are few such festivals by the sea in Europe, and the vision is to make an exclusive festival with a maximum of 3.5 thousand people. We’d rather make two smaller ones than one large festival with ten thousand people, in order to have a minimal impact on the environment and maintain the quality of the content. In the second edition of that, we introduced a lot more content in Freemental, in 2020 the plan was to further enrich it and develop a really serious story, but then the pandemic struck. We weighed in on this year, but this is a festival in which we still need to invest significantly, and the uncertainty of the event would be very risky for us financially.

So, we’ve now turned to the brewery, and I believe that as early as next summer the situation will be much more favourable to continue with the festival where we left off. I have no doubt about that because everyone who is collaborating on the project can’t wait for us to start again,” Ledinscak pointed out.

From next summer on, both projects should be “driven” in parallel. Vopisada expects a return on investment in the brewery and earnings in three to five years. The brewery is now at a capacity of 50 thousand litres per year, but around the New Year they’ll continue to invest to triple the capacity, to 150 thousand litres per year, with two employees.

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