From Croatia with love: This start-up is reinventing the Irish chip experience
Brought to you by Popertee
Starting up a new business is always a challenge, but one ambitious couple is looking to reinvent the chip in Ireland.
Husband and wife team Ana and Drazen Toic decided to look homewards for inspiration when it came to the idea for their new business. Surf’n’Fries is originally a Croatian company that was started in 2009 in Drazen's hometown of Rijeka.
Its big selling point is its unique curved fries, which have been a hit at home and abroad. The curved shape ensures that fries are crispy on the outside and fluffy in the inside. It also means they're ideally shaped for scooping up their tasty dips!
The couple acquired the master franchise rights for Ireland and Northern Ireland and launched the Surf’n’Fries Mobile Unit in 2016.
Setting up at a pop up location in Dun Laoghaire and travelling to national events allowed them to showcase the brand. The plan is to open a permanent base at the start of 2017 and to look at offering other franchises to people within Ireland.
We caught up with Drazic to talk chips, start-ups and running a business.
What’s your own background?
I lived in Croatia for most of my life, but always felt that there was something more outside the borders of my country.
So in the nineties I lived for four years in Italy and finally moved to Ireland in 2011, despite the difficult economic situation at the time, following my wife Ana (at the time my girlfriend). I have never regretted this decision.
Ana worked for years as a restaurant manager in a fast-paced Italian restaurant in Dublin City Centre while, for the four years prior to Surf’n’Fries, I was a project manager in an American company that operates in the wireless industry.
Have you always been an entrepreneur?
Yes! Even when I was employed by somebody else, I considered my responsibilities and the whole relationship from an entrepreneurial and result-oriented prospective. In addition, I founded my first limited company at the age of 23 and had a number of business ventures in the following 10 years back in Croatia.
Why did you choose Ireland as a base for your new business?
It wasn't really a choice. Ireland has been our home for almost six years and we believe that the business climate is very good for start ups and SMEs. In the particular case of Surf’n’Fries, we knew before the kick off, and received proof in the past eight months, that this unique product and concept would be well accepted.
Why did you end up in Dun Laoghaire?
Actually thanks to Popertee. We had contacted them for other locations and they suggested the Dun Laoghaire Harbour as one of them. At the time it was linked to a children carousel weekend.
We found it very helpful to get our brand out and the feedback of our customers was great as well. As we received some excellent reviews on our Facebook page, we decided that we might give it a try with a regular appearance, every Saturday in September and October. And we're glad we took this decision.
How did you get involved with Popertee?
Research - in the phase our company is in at the moment, a great deal of time is dedicated to research. We're currently looking to open the first Surf’n’Fries brick and mortar store, which still presents some challenges when talking to real estate agencies or landlords.
The usual line of thought is that you need to be an established and well-known brand to access good footfall area. On the other hand, if you don't get exposure, there is no way you can get the needed publicity and reference.
Would this have been possible without the help of Popertee?
The answer is no. Through Popertee you get access to locations that would be very difficult to find. In addition, Popertee regulates the relationship between the landlord and tenant, taking responsibility for the agreement and managing the pop up.
This leaves precious time to us to prepare for the actual pop up.
What are the biggest benefits of being a pop up business?
Exposure, brand awareness and publicity. These are the three key areas every start-up needs to focus on and thanks to Popertee this is now possible.
Would you recommend their service to someone else?
What are the pros and cons of starting your own business?
The most challenging part of starting a new business was and still is getting your foot in the door in a competitive market like the one we're operating in. There are a lot of people with brilliant ideas, looking for business opportunities and only the most resilient and creative ones will succeed, by working hard and smart, day in and day out.
The best part of setting up Surf’n’Fries is the feedback we're receiving every day about our product.
The interaction with our customers is our main source of energy and I feel blessed every time I have the opportunity to work with my team serving our fries, especially in places we're not known. Then you can really see the reaction of our customers when they try our great chips!
What’s been the biggest lesson along the way?
Cooperation. Every achieved target, big or small, is the result of a team effort, not necessarily only within one company. I am including here the Surf’n’Fries mother company and our colleagues and franchisees from other countries.
Also, our business partners like Popertee and the organisers of the markets and events where we operate. It is thanks to them and their teams that the opportunities are actually generated.
What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting their own business?
Do your homework! It is not enough to have a good idea. There are so many aspects of a business that need to be mastered, starting from the business plan and the corrections to be made in the first months or years of operation.
It is a constant learning process and there must always be a thirst for new ideas and opportunities. Oh, and yes, don't plan on having a 40-hour work week. It just doesn't work like this.
Have you got a budding business? Ever thought of using a pop-up? Research has shown that 68% of consumers prefer to shop in-store and 61% of these shoppers go to pop-up shops to find seasonal products. Popertee offers businesses prime pop-up locations. This Christmas they have locations at Pearse Street train station, 53 South William Street, 1 Dame Lane, Merchants Quay Cork and Scotch House, Burgh Quay.
Brought to you by Popertee
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- The Irish video game maker, Bobby Healy, who made millions in Mexico before anyone heard of the internet and how being Irish is like being a global credit card;
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