In conversation with… Drazen Toic – Surf n Fries

In conversation with… Drazen Toic – Surf n Fries

This week, Daniel caught up with Surf n Fries Ireland franchisee owner Drazen Toic. Hailing from the beautiful city of Rijeka in Croatia, Drazen has made Ireland his home in recent years, and met with Daniel at Dun Laoghaire Harbour on a sunny September afternoon to discuss his latest venture Surf n Fries – a Croatian global success story, the power of social media for start-ups, and the harbour as a pop-up location.

Drazen, it’s great to see you and your Surf n Fries Van bring a bit of colour to the Harbour, I must say the packaging looks fantastic!
Could you give us a few words on your own background, the Surf n Fries product, and why you decided to bring the franchise to Irish shores?

Daniel, thank you for your lovely compliments. We believe our funky trailer and tasty product do bring something unique, and complement the various events held at the harbour over the summer/autumn season.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, founding my first company at the age of 23 back in Croatia, working with hairdressers and beauticians. After this I moved into the corporate world, working as a project manager before moving to Ireland in 2011 with my wife Ana, who is also my business partner in the Surf n Fries project. After 4 years of project management in the telecommunications industry we decided that it was time to invest in the Surf’n’Fries Master Franchise and develop the brand in Ireland.

Surf’n’Fries is a Croatian franchise founded by serial entrepreneurs Andrija Čolak & Denis Polic in my hometown of Rijeka back in 2008. Both myself and Ana first came across the product in 2010. The products unique taste and catchy packaging, immediately caught our attention. When Andrija & Denis decided to franchise the format, Ana and myself began to follow them closely and track their development and international success.

In 2015, having seen the success of Surf’n’Fries in Austria, Germany, Norway, Vietnam, Slovenia, Croatia, Turkey, we decided that it was time to invest in the Surf’n’Fries Master Franchise and develop the brand in Ireland. Everyone knows the Irish love their bag of chips, so we thought this new healthy alternative, had the potential to do quite well here.

Obviously us Irish are fond of our fish ’n’ chips, could you tell us why your product is different to current offerings?

Exactly! Ireland has the greatest consumption of potatoes per capita in Europe, so our product is a good fit! There are 3 main differences between ourselves and current offerings.

1. Curved Shape – the curved shape is given to each piece of fries by a specially designed knife. This allows for optimal frying and better taste.
2. Cooking Method -The cut potatoes are fried in a specially designed oven. Our fries are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. This process results in healthier fries that don’t compromise on taste.
3. Our Packaging – The specially designed packaging allows the customer to hold the fries, 2 dips and a cup all in one hand!

The packaging is fantastic, solving that age old problem of eating chips out of a greasy paper bag. Do you have any idea what the inspiration was behind this from the founders Andrija Colak & Denis Polic?

Yes the packaging is very unique, and solves more more than one of the challenges of street food formats.The packaging allows our customers to enjoy their fries, two dips, and a drink at the same time with a single hand, leaving the other hand free to actually eat the product. The packaging has actually been patented by Andrija and Surf n Fries, which means our customers have the best and most unique experience possible.
God know’s where the inspiration came from, Andrija & Denis must have taken an origami course or two!

Dun Laoghaire Harbour is a great spot, especially on those warm sunny summer days, however infrequent they may be! What made you choose this particular location and how have you found it thus far?

Yes the Harbour is a great location. On those sunny summer days, there aren’t many better places to be in Dublin. We have been operating here the past three weekends, and our product has been well received, if our Facebook reviews are anything to go by!
I like to get out, meet and chat with my customers, so the Harbour is perfect for this. Based on our experience thus far, it usually takes us four weeks to build up a steady customer base.

As a fellow start-up, we know you can’t beat a good facebook review! Social media has changed the rules of marketing, making it fast, free and ubiquitous for start-ups like ourselves. You guys are very active on social media, and have gathered quite a large and loyal following on Facebook with some fantastic reviews along the way. How important is this marketing channel for you, and is this something which you put a lot of planning into?

Yes indeed, social media has completely revolutionised the marketing industry. Our Facebook Page Surf ‘n’ Fries Ireland is actually receiving a lot of attention. Our customers take the time to write about the product and experience, which is great, as we all know how challenging it is to receive good customer reviews!
I would say that Facebook is the most direct channel of communication we use to reach our target customer and increase brand awareness. It does require creativity, attention and working hours in order to have a neat and clean message, but it is well worth the investment.

So, obviously there are big plans for Surf n Fries going forward, with the US looking like it will be the next big market to be hit, which is fantastic for a company so young. On a more local level, what are the plans for Surf n Fries Ireland going forward, will we be seeing you popping up somewhere new in the next few months?

Surf”n’Fries is one of the fastest growing franchises in Europe. Last year Surf’n’Fries won an award for the most promising new franchise project at the International Franchise Association in Las Vegas for Next generation Franchising. Andrija & Denis have built a personable brand and are quite selective on franchisees. The brand stands for the building of relationships and teamwork, and it is these values which have really accelerated the organic growth of the company. The US pilot is currently in a very advanced stage. There is the Dubai location opening this September at the Kite Beach, and there is also growth in the European Market in Russia, Austria, and Germany.

In Ireland the target for this year is to open the first Surf’n’Fries store followed by one or two more in 2017. Conversations are at an advanced stage with potential franchisees and suitable venues. Fortunately, the store requirements are simple and affordable, making this venture accessible to a large crowd of potential entrepreneurs.
Dublin shopping centres, due to their demographic and predictable footfall, are one the main pop-up locations we are currently in negotitations with.

Lastly, based on your experience thus far, would you have any advice for brands looking to pop-up in the harbour?

The Harbour has great development potential for more complementary offerings. For those brands just starting out, it is a perfect space to meet with and chat to your customers, to try something different, and stand out from the crowd! We would be happy to share the harbour space with other vendors!

September 2016 . Daniel McCarthy