“The guiding principle behind the decoration of my establishment is that the guests have to think I have spent 100 kn, while I have actually spent, let’s say, double that much. It shouldn’t be evident that a significant amount of money was invested in decoration at first, because there is nothing flashy in the interior. I have always done things my way.”
Kasim Čorić is one of the old-timers of the hospitality business in Martićeva, and the Divas cafe he founded with his sister Kismeta is one of the central points of the neighbourhood. The popular gathering spot for guests of completely different profiles has attracted citizens and tourists alike for years, thanks both to the good selection of drinks and the imaginative and unpretentious interior that didn’t resemble anything else in Zagreb at first. Last year, Kasim became “independent” and, along the cafe, opened the Divas bistro just a few dozen meters away, right next to Booksa, and very quickly positioned himself on the gastronomic map of the city thanks to the varied and delicious menus, but also (again) thanks to the unconventional ambiance in which, among other things, the works of interesting contemporary artists are periodically interchanged. The blend of gastronomy, homey atmosphere and select cultural expressions is obviously a winning combination, so it is no surprise that the bistro has also found its regular audience. In order to get to know the person behind this longstanding and successful hospitality story, we had coffee with Kasim one morning.
Kasim Čorić: My sister and I first founded the Divas boutique six or seven years ago, while nobody of the current crew was yet in Martićeva, except Booksa. We were among the first ones here. People laughed at us, they were astounded; like, what are you going to do there, among car parts and ćevapi restaurants… However, you can create a business anywhere, if you’ve got what it takes. People will recognize and find you if you are at least a bit different, that is my opinion. However, the boutique business lost its sense with the onset of the crisis, because logically, everybody gives up luxuries first in times of crises. Cars, jewelry, clothes… You can live without those things. Not knowing what we wanted to do, we eventually decided to turn to hospitality and opened the Divas cafe.
Whatever you do, you have to like it; if you manage to organize your life that way, that’s it. You have to constantly keep trying to have a good life. If work is a pain in the neck, f*** it. If I feel good in the space I create, others will too, they will recognize it. And I am definitely different. I have a different worldview — the guiding principle behind the decoration of my establishment is that the guests have to think I have spent 100 kn, while I have actually spent, let’s say, double that much. It shouldn’t be evident that a significant amount of money was invested in decoration at first, because there is nothing flashy in the interior. I have always done things my way.
Interiors of all my establishments have always been decorated with kitsch, my biggest love. I consciously adore kitsch because people most often don’t realize that something is kitschy, but they nevertheless think that kitsch and trash are the biggest evils in this world. No matter what I do, kitsch is always present. We had a lot of problems with decorating the cafe, but we used everything people would normally throw out. I think we were the first in Zagreb to put wooden planks on a concrete wall, and this wiseguy showed up who thought we were trying to protect the wall because we were going to do some work around it. I told him — yes, that is exactly what we are doing. Each chandelier was different, I coloured them pink because they were white everywhere else, and white is such a dull colour. For example, the kitchen is supposed to be black or white. Well, you don’t say?!
I turned to food and opened the Divas bistro because it represented a challenge for me. You have a much, much longer way to go with food than with a cafe, you need to be very persistent and hold on to your basic thought, never change anything as you go. Be persistent or forget about it. I do everything in my bistro. I love it when someone says — I’m in charge of PR. You don’t say, and what else are you in charge of? Will you take a broom? Scrubbing the kitchen, doing the dishes, washing the floors or getting supplies isn’t a problem for me. There is no work I wouldn’t do here.
Different people come to us, from everywhere, but there is always a natural audience filter. The people who come in are those interested in something new, who get this feeling. Mother Nature has designed all of that. Naturally, everybody is welcome. This is the most beautiful part of Martićeva, but I wouldn’t like for it to become the new Tkalčićeva or Cvjetni square, to become too commercial. Let everything move step by step. There is a lot of potential here; many architects, designers, culture workers, etc. live or work here. But the damned money is always the problem. I don’t believe that the neighbourhood will suddenly blossom or experience a renaissance, or that lines of people will start walking around here all of a sudden. It definitely won’t happen. But something must happen.
Hospitality has always been a successful industry here, along with hair salons. Hairdressers and caterers go hand in hand. Some establishments have changed I don’t know how many owners, like the former Little Venice. It is not easy being in the hospitality business. Just opening a cafe is not enough, you have to come up with some sort of content. The safest and nicest thing is having no responsibilities, but that is not freedom. This is, and freedom costs the most. People think — like it’s such a big deal. If you stand behind something, if you want to be different, it costs money. It is inevitable.