Serbian cafe YUGO GRILL and the story of 4 friends who revived the Balkans in the middle of China
In December 2020, I craved our food and sat at the table with my friend Nikola, who is a dentist.
– “What would I give for applause, auuuu”
“Vala, so am I.” he replied.
– “What do you think we should open a small window where we will make applause, just to have something to eat”
The doctor laughed and said, “Why not. Let’s try ”
And so it all started for Vladimir, Nikola, Nikola and Vlatko who are now the owners of the YUGO GRILL restaurant in the middle of China, while their guests “go crazy” for food, music, Yugoslav nostalgic atmosphere. And even the majority are not from this area, but Chinese, Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Cubans,… One of the owners, Vladimir Milošević, told us from Shanghai about how they started and where they arrived for the BIZLife portal.
- The Yugo grill restaurant in the middle of China sounds pretty exotic. It would also be called pure nostalgia. Was it really enough for a Serb to crave burgers and have that desire lead you to a restaurant? And what does it look like when a couple of friends go on an adventure – “let’s make a window to make applause just to have something to eat”?
True, we really wanted burgers and our food, so 3 years out of our country because of the crown, and all kinds of food except ours ??!?! Of course !! At first it seemed ridiculous. Watching the four of us grind meat, make applause, bake, it was totally like from a cartoon. Only when we opened and when people started coming en masse did we realize that this is not a cartoon but a reality.
- What did it look like in practice?
We thought we knew how to make burgers because we are from Serbia. But it didn’t really look that way. When we made the first one we realized it wasn’t that. And so for the next four months we tried to make a good burger, until we finally succeeded.
- How many of you started a restaurant, what are your professions and do you still do your job considering that the business with the restaurant started unexpectedly well?
The four of us started a small restaurant. Nikola Urošević (doctor), Nikola Romić (manager), Vlatko Mitashev (professional photographer) and me (director of photography). And yes, I still do my job like everyone else. Since I have my own company where I work, it is not difficult for me to spend half of my working time in the morning in the video production office and in the afternoon to go to Yugo and work there. Nikola Urošević does the same. The two of us can take a part of our lives to manage both jobs, while Romić and Mitashev became dads recently, so at the moment they can’t help much in the restaurant.
- What is your menu, what can be eaten in your restaurant?
From gourmet to kebabs, grilled pork liver, grilled pork neck, salads, sausages, french fries, shish kebab, fried cheese ,,, and every week we have a specially cooked dish that we always emphasize. So far, we have had goulash, paprikash, burek, moussaka, bećarac, beans…. every meal every week and then we have chaos in the bar.
In the beginning, they were only ours, while now 70% of foreigners and 30% of ours come. Foreigners are falling apart, especially Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Cubans, but also Chinese. The only thing the Chinese tell us is that our portions are very large and that we should reduce the burgers and everything else, and I joke with them and say that if we reduce it and our people see it, they will forbid me to go back because I present a small burger to the whole the world (laughter). Foreigners go crazy for everything we offer. From food to brandy, to music and the look of the whole restaurant. With brandy everything is possible !!!
- What were your expectations and what happened to you, can you describe that?
Our expectations were zero. Literally. But we put a lot of effort into everything. Effort and time. Nikola Urošević and I have not stopped for the last 6 months. Every day we almost close the bar in the morning and again we come almost for coffee to open every morning. And all four of us spent a lot of money on this “joke”. Shanghai is a very expensive city and everything is too expensive. Local, meat, labor… And all that should start from scratch. Now I can say that we got on our feet, but there were a lot of moments when we thought we should get up and get back to our jobs. Now the future is easier to see and the guests are giving us the wind in our sails to continue with good and hard work.
There is nothing like it in Shanghai. They are all either Chinese restaurants or Italian, French or some mixtures. The Asian style prevails naturally. But the food we can give them is food they haven’t tried and that’s something very interesting for them.
- What is the procedure for starting a business, in this case opening a restaurant in China, can you compare them with those in Serbia?
I opened my first video production Studio Frame in 2007 in Belgrade. Another company, ie. I opened the Infinity Films video production with my wife in 2016 in China. So I have experience with those things and the legal processes of it all, which helped us a lot around all those papers. But I’ve never had a restaurant, and it’s not just for a restaurant to open a business. There are work permits, for the kitchen, for alcohol, for food delivery… 300 things I learned because of this. In any case, they are much more complicated than Serbia, especially since everything is in Chinese.
- Now that you own a restaurant visited in China with Serbian food, what do you think – was everything worth it?
When we opened a small window in Shanghai with burgers and kebabs, our bill was 35 burgers a day to sell just to pay for the bar a month. When that, 150 people come on the opening day. They are waiting on the street, a row of 20 meters, we don’t know how to “throw out” all the applause. We did everything, kneaded, baked, put side dishes, the five of us in three square meters. After two months, we found a new place. And now when I see how far we have come and when I see a full bar our hearts are full.
The owners of the biggest restaurants in China come to us and they don’t believe what kind of food it is. They say: “the whole F&B in Shanghai is a story about YUGU, a story about people without any background in a restaurant that made a meal out of love, a meal that doesn’t exist in Shanghai, and that’s why we have great respect for you”
Doing something out of love is the only way to succeed, and not doing it for money.
And I look at our small cafe, where Turkish coffee, brandy, brandy are drunk every day, where people laugh, enjoy, rejoice every day, they feel at home, even though they are from different parts of this planet…. And my heart is full.
I am happy that we can present our country at least through food and drink, and evoke the feeling of the Balkans in the center of Shanghai.
And every time I go inside, I remember our country, the posters remind me of Kotor, the sea, Split, beautiful Slovenia, Macedonia, Sarajevo, Skadarlija, our people and smiles.
Photo: Private archive
Source: BIZlife by www.bizlife.rs.
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