Top Slovenia interview: Martin Jezeršek

0
51

Martin Jezeršek is the general manager at Jezeršek catering. The Jezeršek family is without a doubt one of the most known families in Slovenia, especially in the culinary scene. At Jezeršek catering, the whole family is involved in the business, that has been handed down from Franci who started the Jezeršek business over four decades ago, to his four sons.

We recently talked to one of the sons of the Jezeršek family. Martin Jezeršek runs the Jezeršek catering alongside his three brothers.

Let us start this interview off with congratulation you and your family Jezeršek for receiving the Michelin plate for good cooking! How did it feel to be honored and moreover recognized by the famous red French guide Michelin?

“We truly are honored and happy about this recognition. We see Michelin as the most relevant guide globally and locally and Michelin plate is exactly what we were hoping for. We are positioning Dvor Jezeršek as a high-quality gostilna not a fine dining restaurant and if we would have to choose a level of recognition it would be the Michelin plate”.

Dvor Jezeršek is situated in the idyllic village of Cerklje na Gorenjskem, however, shortly after the Michelin Guide announcement you and your family Jezeršek made a very special announcement yourself, which was the takeover of Gostilna na Gradu in Ljubljana. We would like to welcome you to Ljubljana. How did you decide to make this expansion to the Slovenian capital from the Gorenjska region?

“This decision was not something we planned for a long time. It happened overnight when our industry was hit by the coronavirus. We had to close our business in mid-march and we soon realized that we have to look for new opportunities to be able to save the jobs within our team. We are still largely dependent on the event catering business which is now – months after the end of pandemic, still totally blocked. We came across the information that Ljubljana Castle is in the tender procedure of choosing new tenant for Gostilna na Gradu and Grajska kavarna (Caffee) na gradu. We decided to go for this opportunity. We invested all our time and energy to propose the best program and we were chosen to become the new tenant of both outlets.”

You and your family already have a restaurant on Bled castle, how does it feel to be now the “cooking” royals in Ljubljana castle? Can you tell us how will be the culinary story of Gostilna na Gradu different from those in the Gorenjska region and on Bled castle?

“Javni zavod Ljubljanski grad had very clear guidelines about the vision of both, Gostilna na Gradu and Grajska kavarna. We had to follow those guidelines when creating the program of both outlets. At the same time the guidelines are very much in line with the overall vision of our company and our brand. Therefore, we couldn’t find a better fit between our expectations and the expectations of Ljubljanski grad. All out restaurants are built around great guest experience and modern interpretation of traditional ingredients and recipes. All our restaurants want to stay closer to the level of “gostilna” rather than a fine dining restaurant. However, every restaurant has a unique identity. The location, the atmosphere and also the menu. Part of the menu at Bled castle is unique and dedicated to the local environment. The same is at Dvor Jezeršek and the same will happen at Ljubljana Castle. However, the identity isn’t built in a day or a month. We need a couple of months to make the transition from past to future. We are closely watching Gostilna na Gradu to fully understand it’s specifics, it’s guests, their expectations etc. We are in the process of transition and by spring next year we hope to build the identity of Gostilna na gradu.”

What can your guests expect when they are sitting down at Gostilna na Gradu? What kind of menu will you be presenting to them?

“We want to deliver traditional flavors, modern interpretation and excellent guest experience. It’s as simple as that. However excellent guest experience is a very personal thing. You need to understand the expectations and you need to be able to exceed those expectations. We try to understand the individual expectations of our guests and we try to adapt to them with the level of service. We work hard to learn our staff that for example a couple having a romantic dinner needs a different service approach, compared to a group having a business lunch or a tourist spontaneously stopping by. This is where we want to make a difference.”

A provocative question perhaps, but since you have settled in Ljubljana now as well, Ljubljana or Gorenjska? A mix of both? Or do you have another favorite spot in Slovenia where you love to spend your free time?

“My favorite way to spend free time is with my family. First of all, my wife and my kids, but also my parents, my brothers and their families. It really doesn’t matter where. It’s how and with whom. However, I do love to visit our locations also in my free time. It can either be Pivnica Union with my friends or one of the castles on a sunny Sunday.”

We are sure you been asked this a lot over the last few months, but can you tell us and our readers how did the epidemic of Coronavirus in Slovenia affects your gastronomy business? How do you think your restaurants will recover in Slovenia after it? What measure have you and your family taken to save the restaurant business?

“We were hit bad by the crisis. Events are still at hold and no one can tell us when things will go back to normal. The same is with global tourism which as an impact on Bled and Ljubljana castle. Local tourism is somehow OK. Luckily, we were able to diversify over the past few years and we are not dependent only on event catering and global tourists. Dvor Jezeršek and Pivnica Union are doing quite fine, Akademija Jezeršek is doing great, we also launched an e-catering delivery service which is steadily growing. We will be able to survive this crisis but we have to tighten the belt and be very cautious in every decision.”

Jezeršek catering has been in the business for over three decades. Could you tell us what your role is in the family business at Jezeršek catering?

“I am the managing director of the company. My job is to align everything and everyone with our long-term vision and mission. Therefore, most of my work is on the strategic level, however, I want to stay in touch with our everyday business and I try to be involved at different levels of our company.”

Luka Jezeršek is in charge of cooking if we are not mistaken. Do you also love to cook? If so, what would you cook for us if we came over tomorrow for lunch?

“Luka is indeed in charge of cooking. But since we are quite a big company this doesn’t mean that he is in the kitchen every day. He is in charge of “operational support departments” which includes central kitchen, menu development, supply chain and logistics. He has a team of multiple chefs, sous-chefs and managers and they all share responsibilities. Running a kitchen in our company is a team work.

Personally, I love to cook. I cook every day for my family. I bake our sourdough breakfast bread daily and I cook at least a couple of meals a week. We often visit our local market on Saturdays and our menu for the week is based on what we get there. If you came for lunch tomorrow? I don’t have too much time tomorrow so I would probably serve you “vampi po tržaško” I still have in the freezer since last weekend.”

You run your business alongside your family. Do you find that easier or harder? What are the pros and cons of working alongside your brothers?  We must imagine that it is a sweet and salty mixture of both. How do you solve any possible arguments in the kitchen? Who gets the final say about what goes on the plate or menu?

“We are able to maintain great relationship and because of that it’s mostly sweet. We are first of all friends, then brothers and business partners. We respect each other strengths and we excuse each other’s weaknesses. This makes us the best team in the world and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Of course, we have arguments, but we always try to solve them through a conversation. Luka gets the final say about the menu because this is his responsibility. Important business decisions are usually taken together. Rarely but sometimes we don’t share the same view on important decisions. In those cases, I take the decision as the managing director. The hierarchy has to be clear and everyone needs to be responsible for his decisions.” 

What approach do you take on while leading the family business? How do you motivate your workers?

“We try to have a fair and open relationship with everyone, I think this is the key. It is getting harder to lead when the company is growing and lately, we all had to go through some changes in leadership. Last year we established an HR department responsible also for human development and leadership. It is not enough to have the owners who can be good leaders, every department needs a leader.”

Do you have any more plans of expanding your family-run business in the near future? What can we and other food enthusiasts expect to “get served on the plate” from the Jezeršek family? 

“At the moment we are not looking for further expansions. Actually, we are at the point when we need to think about our long-term strategy. Every couple of years you need to take time to rethink your vision of the future. We did this seven years ago and we were planning to take time for it this year. The COVID situation shook things up a bit, but we still have to ask our self where do we want to be in five years’ time.”

What is the most important lesson life has taught you over the years?

“I learned that the long-term success only comes with fair play, healthy relationships and team work.”

What is your personal motto or philosophy in life?

“I don’t have a motto. There are a couple of things I value lot. My family, relationships with people around me, gathering around food and wine. These are the most important ones.”