Made in Croatia: Milky Pancakes Spread from Dubrava to Tirana and Beyond

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Sasa Paparella writes on the 16th of January, 2020, just a few months after graduation, young Ivan Milkovic decided to transfer the theoretical knowledge he acquired at the Faculty of Economics to doing business in Zagreb, and opened Milky pancakes in Dubrava back in 2014.

He used an easy-to-remember derivative of his surname and went into business with 12,000 euros in family savings. In the first five years of its establishment, its brand has expanded not only in Croatia, but also in the surrounding countries – Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania.

In all these countries, he designed a pancake chain that employs more than 200 people. Three Milky’s have been opened in Zagreb so far, two in Split, Belgrade (Serbia) and Sarajevo (BiH), and one in Banja Luka (BiH), Mostar (BiH), Nis (Serbia), Novi Sad (Serbia), Novi Pazar (Serbia), Podgorica (Montenegro), Bar (Montenegro), Tirana (Albania), Skopje (Macedonia) and Kragujevac (Serbia). Milky pancakes are planned in Istanbul (Turkey), Vienna (Austria), Ljubljana (Slovenia), and Zurich (Switzerland), and a couple of inquiries have arrived from Germany. Although there are about fifteen different pancake shops in Zagreb today, only Milky pancakes has made it abroad.

After the Milky pancakes brand managed to establish itself regionally, most of these pancake shops now operate as franchises. The money invested brings given know-how and marketing, and the biggest expense for any potential investor is the pancake room. Milkovic retained a 50 percent stake in the shops in Belgrade, Banja Luka, Bar, and the one set to open in Istanbul.

“Belgrade is doing great, we employ 40 people there, it’s amazing how much Serbs spend on going out! The prices of our pancakes are very similar to those in Croatia, and although salaries are much lower in Serbia, turnover is very good.

The situation is similar in Banja Luka, where we have a space of 300 square metres and seventeen employees. I’m satisfied with the business in our neighbouring countries, and I’ve left Croatia to others. I no longer had the nerve to pay unreasonable tax penalties. I definitely gave up when the VAT on catering was increased, it killed us,” Milkovic said, explaining why it’s easier for him to do business in other countries.

He decided to use the expansion in the region to promote Croatian products. “I withdrew Podravka’s chocolate spreads in BiH, Serbia and Albania. I told them I was promoting their products, I expected some reaction, maybe for them to co-finance that promotion on the markets that are important to them, but no, there was none of that,” says Milkovic, who then began making his own brand of spreads.

When starting a business, the biggest problem was convincing people that it made sense to give 30 kuna for pancakes. “The comment was always the same – ”For that money I can make tonnes of pancakes at home!”

Over time, guests began to realise that pancakes from Milky pancakes look much better than their home-made ones, they’re more imaginative, and going to Milky pancakes is also a reason to go out.

He came up with many combinations, and admits that he didn’t have to type them all into a computer, he just listed various items and left the guests to arrange their own pancakes.

“You start with an empty pancake, which costs 13 kuna, and then add what you want, from the type of spreads to, if you like it, whipped cream or ground almonds on top. The guests themselves combine whether they want Nutella, Kinder bueno, ice cream, strawberries, mousse, coconut, Oreo biscuits, fruits of the forest… I still come up with some novelties, for example, I introduced protein pancakes. Part of the competition is stealing ideas from us, but it doesn’t matter, we’re constantly coming up with something new. Of course, the raw material is also important, for example, we use premium Callebaut chocolate,” reveals Milkovic.

The pancake mix for all Milky pancakes is made in the same factory in Zagreb.

He got the idea of ​​a pancake house about ten years ago, but only after graduation did he do anything about it.

“When I graduated from university, I first went to the employment service, they offered me a job as an intern for 1600 kuna, which I refused. Then they offered me self-employment assistance, they asked me for project documentation. The condition was that I should not open a company until they they give an opinion on my project and their response time is 90 days,” explained Milkovic, detailing the draconian Croatian business attitude and why he steered away from going the normal route, using his own cash instead.

The first Milky pancakes opened back in 2014 in Dubrava, Zagreb. He found a 28 square metre store in a busy location, “there were a lot of young people there who could be attracted by our products. The shop used to be a used goods store, then a gold buy-back shop… so it was hard at first and it was difficult for people to accept that something could be eaten there now. I was doing everything to attract attention, I was even hanging balloons in the surrounding trees,” Milkovic recalled.

He used pallets and brick walls in the shop’s landscaping, but the ”competent” inspectors from the responsible authority didn’t like the industrial style, so he was denied a permit to continue, with the justification that the ”space was unfinished”.

“The inspection refused me because they weren’t used to spaces made of pallets and brick walls. Only after proving with certificates that the paint on the wall was washable and easily maintained did I get a permit to work,”s added Milkovic.

Then, one year later in 2015, he opened a shop in Spansko, also in Zagreb. He decorated it with car headlights and car seats. As business went well, competition appeared in Dubrava and Milkovic moved to a larger neighbourhood. His competition failed after just one year. The third Milky pancakes opened back in 2016 in Sredisce, Novi Zagreb. In the meantime, he abandoned minimalism in landscaping and invested as much as 100,000 euros in the renovation of 100 square metres of the space.

“If I knew how much it would end up costing me, I’d never have embarked on an adaptation! Although banks seem to be offering increasingly affordable solutions, in Croatia, young people have a hard time getting a loan,” Milkovic says. For now, he is not considering expanding to downtown Zagreb: “the rent is too high there. We work with a solid margin, but the price and quantity of the pancakes sold is not enough to cover that cost.”

He covers that part of Zagreb with the help of the popular Glovo delivery service, with whom he started working to fill in the gaps in the morning, and now his revenue from deliveries has reached 50 percent of total traffic. Having conquered the region with Milky pancakes, he can now devote himself to other ideas – his own line of chocolate spreads, as well as frozen pancakes for cafes, restaurants and shops.

Make sure to follow our dedicated Made in Croatia and business pages for much more.


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