In two decades, the family business of Ivo and Toni Bartulović has become one of the leading wholesale and retail chains of fish trade, which has eleven shops and a thousand partners as part of the Centaurus group
In the beginning, there was… barely anything. Two ice boxes, one van and one employee. In 2002, when Centaurus was born, nobody could have known that in not even twenty years they would grow from a small home business to to one of the leading wholesale and retail fish trade chains in Croatia and regionally.
The concept of boutique fish market
In the beginning, Mr. Ivo Bartulović, our first mentioned employee, centered his attention primarily on buying cephalopods, prawns, squid, and octopus. Several years later, he was joined by his brother, Toni, and step by step, their effort and skills built their concept fish market Brač into a popular one-stop shop for fish lovers.
Today, Centaurus Group has more than 150 employees, 11 shops in busy locations and 3 wholesale locations. In partnership with Grgo Fistonić, Centaurus have founded Gastro Hvar on the most visited Adriatic island, and with Milan Prgomet, they have opened the super-popular Gastro Fisch Brač, supplying the citizens of Vienna, Austria, with Adriatic seafood, as well as opening the doors of Europe for further business ventures. In 2024, both companies are already celebrating their fifth birthday.
Daily selection of fresh fish and seafood
Gastro ribarnice Brač offer a daily selection of fresh fish and seafood, as well as frozen, dried, smoked, salted and marinated seafood for all tastes and occasions, from every day to special events. The fish is purchased daily, directly from fishermen on local markets along the Adriatic coast, and Gastro also offers ready-made dishes, prepared with care, from fresh ingredients. Salted, marinated and smoked products are sold under the name brand Amare, synonym for quality and represents exclusively domestic raw materials.
After twenty years of activity, it’s time for a little retrospective, so we sat down with Toni Bartulović and asked him about the family business. He told us, with great passion, how the company joined forces with international partners.
‘Twenty years is a long time, be it in a person’s life or in the life of a company. The first decade of hard work was the foundation of today’s success. It was necessary to find qualified staff, create the necessary infrastructure, have a very rigorous quality control in order to create a market step by step.When I think back to that, I’m happy to say our company and our loyal employees have gotten through two recessions, the pandemic and many professional challenges. Our goal is and has always been, meeting our customers’ needs, as well as maintaining quality standards, which also reflects on our partners; fishermen, suppliers, domestic and international buyers, where we are immensely proud of our team’ says Toni Bartulović.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME OF YOUR BOUTIQUE FISH MARKET; GASTRO RIBARNICA BRAČ?
Well, Brač is the island closest to our hometown of Split, and all of us there consider other islands secondary, no offense. We consider the name of the island to be synonym with impressive size and beauty, and we admire the island for its long history and tradition. Also, our mother is from Brač, so the name sort of honors our ancestors.
YOU ARE A NAVAL ENGINEER, YOU COULD HAVE CHOSEN A DIFFERENT PROFESSION AND STILL STAY CONNECTED TO THE SEA. WHAT MADE YOU CHOSE THIS?
I never dreamed I’d end up in this industry. True, I had my dreams, I wanted to do something related to sea and navigation, that’s why I chose naval school, but by chance I ended up in management. I always wanted to be connected to the sea, i worked as a maritime agent, ship’s schandler and chartering, and we also had a restaurant that was located a meter from the sea. And finally, now I’m in the fourth phase of my career, using all the knowledge and skills I’ve gathered along the way. Although in the beginning we were oriented on wholesale, dealing with some of the finest restaurants, and selling exclusively locally sourced fish, the 2007 financial crisis made us think outside the box. We needed a cash-flow business and decided on retail, and we opened our first store next to our warehouse. Not many believed in the success of that business, but we believed in ourselves – especially since we’d had many inquires about fresh fish from locals. Since we indeed did sell fresh fish – wholesale only – it was easy to open a small store. It was an instant success.
Gastro Hvar is popular among yachtsmen
YOU’VE MENTIONED CENTAURUS SURVIVED TWO RECESSIONS AND THE PANDEMIC.
One of the things I’ve learned in this industry is how difficult it is to plan ahead, as our economy is heavily seasonal. The pandemic slowed things down, but what mattered then was keeping our employees, helping them keep hope that when the better times come, we’ll be ready. As a company, we’ve always paid much more attention to quality, than to fast growth.
IN EVERY INDUSTRY, IT’S IMPERATIVE TO KEEP UP WITH TRENDS AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES, KEEPING AN EYE ON THE FUTURE.
I agree, and we have been doing all of that, using EU funds. Our warehouse complex, at the very entrance to the city od Split, is the most modern seafood plant in the region, stretching across 2000 square meters. Our location, all the new equipment and the new offices have allowed us to think positively about the future, and up our game in terms of logistics and quality.
YOU HAVE OPENED A WHOLESALE LOCATION IN HVAR.
We do a lot of business with yachting logistics companies, and find business partner mostly through the word of the mouth. Their clients are mostly interested in lobster and white fish, all of it, naturally, fresh. They are willing to pay more, as well, for delivery and services. They are also interested in delicacies, like caviar, bottarga, French oysters, all premium seafood, so we decided to widen that part of our catalog. We have also developed a brand aimed at true connoisseurs, Amare – love from the sea. Adriatic shrimp, fish cakes, shrimp stock, marinated fish, there really is something for everyone, all fresh and preservative-free. Gastro Hvar is popular among yachts, but also among domestic hotels and restaurants. Centaurus Group has more than 1000 partners in the HoReCa sector.
Partners in nautical tourism
AFTER GASTRO HVAR, YOU STARTED ANOTHER WHOLESALE PROJECT, IN DUBROVNIK, RIGHT?
With our partner, Srđan Andrić, we have launched Albakor Dubrovnik, and spend this entire year setting up the warehouse, to be ready for business launch in 2024. Our final business center will cover the Dubrovnik-Neretva region, extending our reach from central do southern Dalmatia, and offering three delivery dates weekly to all our partners during summer, everywhere including all the larger islands; Brač, Hvar, Šolta, Vis, Korčula, Lastovo and Mljet.
HOW MUCH HAS THE DALMATIAN GASTRONOMY SCENE CHANGED IN THE PAST 20 YEARS?
A lot, and for the better. Today there are hundreds of restaurants in and around Split, and I always love to see it’s young people opening them, raising the bar and bringing new energy to the table. Our gastronomy should put more focus on domestic and fresh ingredients, but I understand change takes time. I’d love to see our restaurants put more authentically Dalmatian fish on their menus, so to speak: merling, red mullet, sardines, instead of the omnipresent and expensive fish like John Dory, scorpion fish and dentex. Still, the change is coming. It’s just a shame to see our travelers enjoy Spanish tapas or Italian fritto misto so much, without knowing they can enjoy those foods at home. Finally, there are some international delicacies that should really find their way to Croatian tables, like French oysters, Italian mozzarella and Norwegian cod, all unrivaled in quality.
WHAT IS YOUR NEXT MOVE?
All our shops stock locally popular items; be it frozen, fresh or luxury, while only the one in Split and the one in Vienna also stock our gastro-offer. Our priority is maintaining quality and maintaining good relations with our suppliers, primarily our 40 fishing crews. We also do a lot of business with local small businesses; wine, honey and olive oil makers, and others. Our plans for the future are keeping our hard-earned position in the market and keeping our customers – in wholesale or retail – happy.
Photos Robert Matić & Gastro ribarnica Brač