June 16, 2019 – Business is booming in parts of Croatia where you might least expect it. Imagine opening a shop on an island with no permanent inhabitants, for example – as Sime and Veronika have done on the Kornati island of Zut, for example.
The more I travel around Croatia, the more amazed I get by the individual stories of innovation, determination and success. In the most unlikely of places.
Consider, for example, the island of Zut on the Kornati Islands, where I enjoyed my first ever glamping experience on Friday night at Festa Days.
This was my third visit to Zut, an island I will confess I had never heard of until the first invitation came a couple of years ago for a November tour of Kornati with the foodies from Gastronaut. Our host was Restaurant Festa, a really quite incredible story of success despite all the odds and lack of bureaucratic support.
Despite there being no water, no electricity and no ferry to Zut, the owners decided to open a high-quality restaurant on Zut, and they opened for business in 1993. In the middle of the war. And having survived such difficult conditions, it was clear that Team Festa was going to succeed. I wrote an article about the paradox of Croatian tourism, using Festa and Zut as a case study after that first visit.
Less than a year later, I was back, invited with other national and international media to celebrate 25 years of Festa on Zut, with a culinary bonanza, served up by several Michelin Star chefs and some of Croatia’s finest chefs. It was quite an event.
Friday was the opening night of this year’s Festa Days, an equally splendid affair which I will report on once I receive the official photos which are so much better than my own, but I wanted to tell you about another fabulous find and successful business on this Kornati gem.
Success breeds success, and the increased nautical traffic to Festa gave local couple Sime and Veronika Bozikov an idea. Although living on nearby Murter, they had property on Zut which they used for summer rentals and personal use. But what if they also tried to open a shop? Of course, with nobody living permanently on the island, there was not going to be many regular visitors, but the sailing community is wealthy and convenience stores are in very limited supply, so I learned. In fact on the 140 Kornati islands (89 of which are in the national park), there are just three shops, including Sime and Veronika’s.
A shop with a view, and a great place to enjoy an ice-cold Karlovacko from the shop’s fridge. The couple opened four years ago, and now Sime spends 8 months a year on Zut, with Veronika joining with the kids when she can from Murter, and then for the whole summer.
Goods are delivered every two days as standard, and they are always just a boat ride away from Murter for exceptional cases. Sime has even invented a wagon with pulley to bring the goods from the water to the shop – it is no fun carrying boxes in temperatures of up to 40C in the summer.
As there was no delivery that day, his kids obliged with a demonstration of how the system worked – see the video above.
Sime is a sailor himself, so when he was planning what kind of things to sell, he focused on the interior of a typical sailing boat fridge. These would be the most popular items, as well as some luxuries for the kids.
There are also fresh fruit and vegetables on offer, a lifesaver for those sailing around the islands with little or no option to stock up on fresh supplies.
The shop is very small, but it does have an impressive range of 600 items on offer. Beer and water take up a lot of the space, and are among the most popular items. I asked Sime what kind of crazy orders he gets, and he told me of one thirsty sailor who bought 500 cans of beer, another over a thousand litres of water.
And ice cream for the kids after a couple of days sailing is obviously popular with the kids. The family also bake their own fresh bread each morning.
And so to the obvious next question? How expensive is it? Apart from being able to charge a premium for offering a service in such a remote location, the actual costs of providing the service are extremely high. Consider, for example, how they keep those ice cold beers so chilled on an island with no electricity. Or the costs of speedboat transfer of all the goods.
Given all this, I was surprised at how cheap their products were when they could really have charged a premium. To give you a comparison, there is a booze shop by the ferry in Split which charges 17 kuna for a half-litre can of beer (you can buy it in the supermarket for 9 kuna). There are not a lot of extra costs involved in getting that beer on the shelf.
By contrast, the same beer costs 18 kuna on Zut, comes ice cold and with the opportunity to enjoy it on the terrace with that view. Which makes it cheaper than many bars on the mainland.
A fabulous story of success, building on the innovation and determination of the Festa pioneers. Both the outstanding restaurant and the presence of a shop will help bring a little more nautical traffic to Zut, and then perhaps some more facilities can be added to develop it further. Fantastic stuff.
And the Croatian islands really are full of surprises – here are 25 things you would not expect to find there.