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Sunday 18.03.2018 | Name days: Ilona, Adelīna

Businessmen share stories: ‘surviving’ and taking risks in Latvia when starting a business

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe silent period – the time for Christmas wishes – has begun. Snow covers Tukums, and the city slowly becomes white. Everything is quiet at Pils ielā. The phone rings, interrupting a quiet moment of watching snowflakes fall under the light of a lantern. «You’re here for us, aren’t you?» BNN goes to interview manager of Merci Cafe Anija Rabkeviča (23) and cafe’s founder Rinalds Pluģis (22). They tell about their experience of ‘surviving’ in Latvia.

«Pure coincidence»

Inside the café light jazz is playing, Christmas mood everywhere. The conversation takes place right where clients usually dine. When asked how the two ended up together in the same room, they said: «We both knew we wanted our own business. The realization came three years ago. We nurtured our dream and considered opportunities. But we never imagined it would be a catering business. We call it pure coincidence – we ended up in the right place at the right time.»

«We wanted stability, to work for ourselves. We wanted to make our own fortune. I remember we saw an advertisement regarding the sale of this place. We decided then and there – we want it, we will do it,» said the company’s manager. She added: «We made the decision in a week. In two weeks we started working together.» Because both study business, they had no doubt they would make it.

The young businessmen reveal that everything happened fast, forcing them to make split-second decisions. The financial side of things was discussed as well: «Of course, first we had to get a considerable amount of money within a week. Knowing that this was not some expensive purchase in a supermarket, we considered different loan options. We had to act quickly.»

The two businessmen say the fact that the deal was good was a lucky break. The two then pooled their funds, families helped as well. They also took a loan from a bank.

Because the place was already a café, the two took it over, adding their own vision to the mix. At the same time, they admit that the main condition of the previous owners was – handing the place over to creative people. «I think we were the best candidates,» said the manager.

The company’s founder proudly said: «Anija has a creative spirit. I’m more focused on keeping her feet on the ground. We are a team – we complement one another in life and in business.»


The most difficult part when starting a business was showing the main idea to our customers – to feel like you’re at home, that there is no reason to rush a meal. «It is hard explaining one’s warm feelings to another. This was the most difficult part. And I’m not even mentioning the heaps of paperwork and other technicalities,» noted Rabkeviča.

«It is also important to keep in mind that in a small town, especially in the cold season, there are only so many people outside. This is why we try individually approaching each person,» said the company’s founder.

The manager continues about everyday life: ‘Whenever we perform orders with suppliers or go procuring products, we see and feel the price rise. Inflation has a very real effect on catering businesses, including us.’

The harsh truth is that businessmen are often forced to search for alternatives – replacing local producers with foreign ones.

«We are sensitive to price changes in groups of products important to us. This is a painful matter. The harsh and sad reality is that no matter how patriotic we are, we often glance at offers provided by our neighbours, which are often more economically favourable. The price is important if we want to survive and make some money in the end,» said Pluģis.

Rabkeviča mentioned several survival criteria young entrepreneurs should keep in mind if they want to survive: complying with hygiene requirements, following clients’ habits, planning approach for clients, carefully following expenses to make sure they do not exceed income, as well as taking risks.

Finding a place in a small town

«I think we are quite unique in Tukums. We cannot compare ourselves to other places in this town because we aim towards variety. Knowing that this is a small town and that people here have their favourite places, the question was – how do we convince people to come to us,» the manager said.

When asked how the café is special in this town, Rabkeviča said: ‘I would say our secret is that we offer meals from different cultures – we present new meals and experiences to the town.’

It should be said that the founder of the company mentioned that client’s education is also one special service the café offers. «We know that not all people can afford to travel to other countries. This is why we offer clients a taste of Italy, Greece and other countries.»

He adds that both of them have had opportunities to experience life in other countries. Anija’s sister lives in New York. Because of that, she has memories of tasting all kinds of dishes and seeing all kinds of places – something she wants to pass on to clients.

Long-term strategy – focus on tourism

When asked how they see the future and what they have in store for their café, both said: «We cannot keep living in a dreamland. We are realists and we understand the winter period is usually quiet. This is why it is worth using Latvia’s fantastic climate, advantages offered by Tukums, and work on developing tourism.»

«Because we opened up in the middle of summer, we noticed influx of tourists to the city. Although our long-term strategy includes attraction of tourists, it does not mean they are our target audience.»

The manager of Merci Café said they already have plans for tourist attraction: «After two months of starting the business, we took part in a contest organized in Tukums. We won co-financing to help realize our idea, which is focused on catering and tourism.»

She also said that the project itself at the stage of realization. Together with Tourism Information Centre they search for information and develop a sustainable plan to promote Tukums from a different perspective. «We hope this project will have been successfully implemented by spring next year.»

In the end, the two businessmen said: «We wish strength and resilience to all entrepreneurs in Latvia. We wish for people to return to Latvia and find jobs here.»


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