"Seeing the smile on the guest's face - that is something special, something that truly matters."
Stiven Vunić’s career is reflected by his very diverse interests. He is the owner of Konoba Zijavica, executive chef in his restaurant, entrepreneur, and a Kul IN alumni! His restaurant, Konoba Zijavica is widely acclaimed as one of the best restaurants on the coast. Read the interview to find out how he built and honed both his entrepreneurial and culinary skills, starting from the foundations of each craft. One question arises, “How does he manage to fit all his daily responsibilities into 24 hours?” The answer is passion, dedication and love for what you do, so read the article, get inspired and remember that you have that same 24 hours every day, use them to realize your dreams!
Tell us something about yourself, how did you decide that gastronomy would become your calling?
- My first encounter with the hospitality industry happened when I was 14 and my parents decided to find me a summer job - I washed the dishes at a restaurant. After that, I enrolled at a vocational high school, became a waiter and started saving for my own restaurant. Over the years, I had taken over, revamped and revived several small, neglected restaurants and cafes, and in 2011 I jumped at the opportunity to buy the place where I had always wanted to open a restaurant. I bought this place and opened Konoba Zijavica of which I am extremely proud. I invest and dedicate most of my time and energy to Zijavica but I am not complaining, far from it. In 2018, I opened another place, focused on fast food - "La Vita" pizzeria & street food. “La Vita” happened spontaneously, right next to Zijavica was an old-fashioned restaurant whose owner had retired and I just had to take advantage of the opportunity, so I bought it! The desire to engage with the culinary industry on a deeper level, i.e. from the kitchen itself, came when I realized I wanted to learn and create something new. Today I cook on a professional level and I am very passionate about it.
What was the main idea and concept behind Konoba Zijavica?
- Over the first few years, Zijavica represented something completely different from what it is today – it was tailored to wider audiences because that was the safest way to earn on the investment. However, I have focused on aligning the concept of Zijavica with my ultimate vision ever since, and every year we are closer to that goal. And yet, I am very careful with my finances because achieving too much when you are not ready can be very dangerous and I think a restaurant that does not make money cannot be considered a good restaurant. The plan for the future is that Zijavica becomes a restaurant that will serve a small number of exclusive, top quality dishes every day, with a menu that will be oriented towards traditional dishes. I would also like to see Zijavica become a restaurant that utilizes only locally sourced ingredients and a place where the guest will experience and taste the emotion and sincerity that has been poured into preparing the dishes.
What was the most difficult thing when you first opened Zijavica?
I never looked at it from that perspective because nothing was difficult! I always carried within me positive energy and a desire for something bigger and better, I worked constantly and it was never a problem. If you truly love what you do, you will be able to reach your goals, and the process of work and progress will not seem troublesome or difficult! Zijavica is full of positive and sincere energy, and so is the food we prepare in the restaurant. I hope this will continue and that Zijavica will delight even more guests and see many generations.
How big is your team? What is important when leading a successful team?
The whole team is quite large, there is 35 of us in total, 10 in Zijavica. The most important thing for a successful team management is to have a sufficient amount of tolerance, but also to be strict, clear and organized. Also, as a leader, you should be an example to others that no task is too difficult, too boring etc. That way you earn the respect of the whole team and the business you manage operates on a top level. I usually wake up very early, I make calls and do phone meetings, I contact various local grocers and fishermen from whom I source the food for the restaurant. Around 11 AM I'm coming to the restaurant and I start work. I work until very late in the evening but take a short break so I can go jogging.
You get extraordinary praise, and reviews, what is the most important acknowledgment you have received for your work?
It's always nice to hear praise from the professionals in the industry but my favorite kind of praise is the one you get from the guests, when you see that you have succeeded in translating the emotion and passion that goes into preparing the food. Seeing the smile on the guest's face, that's something special, something that truly matters.
Professionals aim to continuously educate themselves, how much time are you able dedicate to that aspect of your professional life?
Not as much time as I would like to. I hope to dedicate even more time to professional development in the future. In Kul IN, I met great people who were crucial in creating and defining my culinary identity. Future has great things in store for Kul IN. I recommend the programs to anyone who wants to be a culinary professional. You will perfect your culinary skills, learn the proper way of executing techniques, and get the comprehensive understanding of culinary arts’ foundations. At the end of the course you are a trained professional. Hats off to the whole team.
For more information on the Culinary Arts program, click here.
What advice would you give to someone planning to open their own restaurant?
My advice is very simple - without passion there is no success. One has to be aware that success and hard work go hand in hand. If you want to be truly successful, you will never have the time to sit in a fancy office in your suit. However, you can certainly expect more work and responsibilities, so arm yourself with love and passion for what you do.
Could you list five skills every good entrepreneur should have?
A good entrepreneur must be careful with finances, considerate with partners and employees, cautiously ambitious, communicative, and they must know how to solve the unavoidable problems quickly.
You want to open your own restaurant but you are not sure how to develop and hone the entrepreneurial skills necessary for running your own business? Check out our Culinary Managment program, it might be the thing you are looking for.
Could you list five skills every good chef should have?
Every good chef should know how to work with people and they should have good organizational skills. Furthermore, they should have a thorough understanding of culinary techniques, and be able to recognize and pick out high quality and fresh foods. And lastly, every good chef should be acquainted with everyone’s duties in the kitchen, i.e. they should be prepared to take up any role in the kitchen if/when necessary.
Program: Culinary Arts