A Perfect Gourmet Life: Austria in Winter, a Hvar Vegan Specialty Restaurant in Summer

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July 4, 2018 – For some, the tourist high season never ends. Meet the perfect gourmet combination, winter on the ski slopes of Austria and summer on Hvar. 

We have been waiting for years to enter the European Union. We were complaining that we were the only ones who did not have the right to search for jobs in Germany, Sweden, Britain…, unlike, for example, the Poles or the Czechs who used to have a lower standard of living than us for decades. And then Croatia became a full member of the EU, so the barriers for workers were lifted. Instead of celebrating the fact that our workers now have the right to choose where and under what conditions they will work, we are complaining over the fact that five percent of the population have left Croatia to work abroad. And they say no one will ever come back. But that is not exactly true.

“Some will and some won’t. People have the right to choose and that is how it should be. I was born in Germany, but I have decided to live here because I think that the quality of life here, on Hvar, is much better than abroad. When all the pluses and minuses are summed up, life both here and there has its advantages and disadvantages,” says Stipe Erceg (44), who last winter worked as the manager of the luxury hotel Post in Lech in Austria, where some of the most famous people in the world stay – royalty, multimillionaires, prime ministers, and presidents. Stipe “commanded” a small Croatian colony there – teaching them about the hospitality business, opened up new perspectives for them.

But Stipe is now in a completely different environment. He is in a restaurant on the island of Hvar which he is managing together with his wife Kristina, who he says is the one who drives everything and puts the family business on good foundations. Why did the esteemed Erceg, a hotel manager who used to also work for the prestigious Falkensteiner and Sunčani Hvar companies, replace the cold Alps with a sweltering island?

“Because I had the opportunity, and it is called the free movement of labour within the European Union. I concluded a five-month winter season in Germany, and the owner told me that a job was waiting for me next winter if I wanted to. What I learned there, the experience I have acquired, my wife and I now apply in managing our restaurant. Many people who worked with me in Lech this winter have invested the money into private businesses and are now here in Dalmatia,” explains Stipe.

“Kristina and I have four children. The quality of life on Hvar, primarily as far as children are concerned, compared to the one we had in Germany where we were both born – that cannot be compared. Here they can play outside without fear that a car might hit them, they swim, dive, sail…, socialise with their peers more than in Germany because the life is slower here. There you have to arrange to have a coffee with friends three days in advance, and here you can have three coffees in one day because you simply have more time,” explains Stipe his reasons for staying in Croatia.

But he has nothing against people choosing to work in the European Union. “You can earn more money, learn something new, gain experience, and that can really can be a good foundation to open your business here. You have seen the level of service we provided at the Post hotel in Lech. That was the very top of the hotel industry. There is no reason why I could not provide the same level of service here on Hvar, which is simply the paradise on earth,” says Stipe, how knows what should be done to keep more people in Croatia.

“We should reduce taxes for entrepreneurs and make education more specific and based on practical knowledge, as well as pay students while they work during their education. In Germany, children who study crafts work throughout their high school education, and the best of them are employed immediately after graduation. The children can see what they like to do, while entrepreneurs get workers who can immediately start working,” adds Stipe. Unfortunately, Croatia does precisely the opposite thing. Children learn a lot of theory, and once a girl or a boy get their first job, employers realise they do not know anything and that everything must be taught to them.

“My daughter has graduated from a tourist high school here, but I have to teach her how to prepare pancakes. At “Sunčani Hvar”, where I used to be a manager, children spend just several hours a week having practical lessons. One group peals potato, other group fries potatoes, instead of having them learn the whole process from the beginning to the end,” says Stipe.

What is happening with other Croats born in Germany? “Some have decided to stay in Germany, while others have moved to Croatia. Some of them are disappointed, their businesses have failed due to people not paying their bills and our other well-known problems, but there are those like me who have stayed here or live between Croatia and Germany. But my whole family has returned to Croatia.”

His wife Kristina firmly holds the reins of the restaurant in her hands, eighteen-year-old Ivana helps her father and mother serve the guests, while their older son Marino is a true culinary critic and he is the one who decides whether a meal can be included in a menu or not. Younger son Petar Toni likes to fish, while nine-year-old Jana is bossing everyone around.

“Summer is ahead of us, we need to do this season properly. If our expectations are not met, we can always return to Lech. That is the possibility which we did not have before, while Croatia was not part of the EU. Who wants to use it can move abroad to learn something, to earn some money. That will not hurt anyone, especially if they return home later, invest the earned money and apply the acquired knowledge. That is a winning combination,” concludes Stipe.

Translated from Slobodna Dalmacija (reported by Saša Ljubičić).

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