Stjepan Gavrilović, the First Businessman and Casanova

Climbing and hanging off the branches of a family tree is always an exciting venture for any author, for it reveals the characters that come together for a collective family portrait.

In such a research project, comparisons between generations are inevitable. Father and son; uncle and nephew, for example, are met with remarkable similarities as well as differences. One common thread amongst all the members of the Gavrilović family line, though, is their appreciation for the trade that holds them all together. All members equally share a concern for the family Company and name. It is their motto in life and their greatest interest. How else would the Gavrilović meat industry withstand the test of time and survive throughout the centuries? How else would it have been created and retained the reputation as the finest of its sort – nationally and elsewhere?

Let us remember Mato Gavrilović, forefather of the meat trade, whose name has been on the logo of the Company for decades. We remember his benefactor and uncle, Johann Ivec Gavrilović, who taught him the trade and cared for him. Mato’s own innovative ideas and organizational skills will bequeath him with the epithet of “successful private entrepreneur,” – the first in the family chain. Mato’s firstborn son was named Stjepan. Of his three sons (Stjepan, Mato and Gjuro), Stjepan shows great talent and orderliness in the meat trade in general, which he learned from his father and uncle.

At the age of eighteen, Stjepan Gavrilović takes over the family business, after the untimely death of his father, Mato Senior. He is assisted by his younger brothers Mato and Gjuro. He shares his father’s success in terms of managing the business, retail, and meat shops, which he and his brothers reorganize, expand and modernize in 1889. The three brothers brainstorm a name for the business and come up with Factory of M. Gavrilović Sons. As of the year 1889, when they incorporate their own character and ideas into the Company, they decide to change the name to The First Croatian Salami, Cured Meats and Lard Factory in Petrinja of M. Gavrilović Sons. The similarity between father and son is also evident in Stjepan’s desire to be more involved in the public spheres of both Petrinja and Zagreb. In 1890, he acts as a City Council Member at the City Council in Petrinja. In 1902, Stjepan, along with his brothers, becomes a founding member of the Croatian Literary Society in Zagreb. He is the founder of The Croatian Worker’s Trade School in Zagreb and co-founder of The Croatian Worker’s Trade School in Petrinja. He is also a founding member of the Petrinja branch of the Croatian Homeland Foundation. He was member of the head committee of the Croatian-Slavonic Industrialists Association, established in 1905. The President of the Industrialists Association was Gustav Vitez Pongratz; while its Vice-Presidents were Vilim Gutman and Ignjat Granitz – all of which were very prestigious names in Zagreb public life at the turn of the century.

Under Stjepan’s leadership, the Gavrilović Company received many a tribute in the business world. At its yearly assembly at the beginning of 1909, the Commerce and Trade Chamber in Zagreb commended the Gavrilović Company for its business proceedings of 1908. The assembly spent the majority of its time discussing the “oldest and largest Factory of M. Gavrilović Sons Inc., who with their massive pig fattening farms fall amongst our most distinguished export companies. Together with other meat producers, the Petrinja factory is way up at the top and is the only (domestic) manufacturer of first-class salamis made for export.”

The most influential Zagreb daily paper, the Obzor (Horizon), with famed Croatian journalists Milivoj Dežman and Vladimir Lunaček, as well as Marija Jurić Zagorka, flatter the technological standards of the Gavrilović factory. They write:

‘’…In a special two-storey tower-like building, there is a smoke room for meats and bacon. Every piece hangs separately, while underneath burns a pile of sawdust. The meat is thus exposed to the smoke and is perfectly cured after a time span of 15 hours. Of the best pieces of meat the most popular are the hams, hinds, pork chops and shoulder loins, etc. Of the sausages, we must mention the new small “Croatian Kielbasa”, as it is popularly called. Many types of bacon are manufactured. There are thick bacons, salted bacons, smoked bacons, bacons with paprika powder and the Hamburg Bacon, with its highest meat content. Beef, mixed with pork, is used for simpler types of cured sausages. Then we find a separate Department for the Production of Salami, situated in another building…”

Marija Jurić Zagorka

There are both differences and similarities in terms of the image and prosperity of the family enterprise between these two generations of Gavrilović. Mato and his son, Stjepan, however, were very different when it came to their private lifestyles. We recall how much Mato loved his young wife Marija Radočaj, and his obsession with her bounteous, dark hair. We remember the portrait created for her after her death, made out of her own hair. Stjepan, on the other hand, was a modern-day Casanova; a woman’s man. He was known as ‘’Uncle Stephe”, or Damenfreund (Ladies’ Friend), as women used to call him. The family still owns Stjepan’s collection of photographs of beautiful ladies and their notes and poems written on the backs. Based on the fashion of the ladies in the photographs, one can conclude that the pictures ranged from a time span of about thirty years.

In his later years, Stjepan had a beautiful Viennese Jewish woman as his constant companion. Her name was Mrs. Zmigroth and Stjepan procured a luxurious flat for her in the city. She would accompany Stjepan on his trips to various baths in the region. Not long after Stjepan’s death, Mrs. Zmigroth sought assistance from the Gavrilović family to help her secure her jewellery from Austria. The bright woman that she was, she anticipated, ahead of time, that she ought to flee the country as soon as possible. Stjepan’s nephew and his wife aided Mrs. Zmigroth with her plea, while their daughter Nana remembers to this day how her parents were fascinated with Mrs. Zmigroth’s jewellery. No woman in the Gavrilović family ever owned anything so elaborate. “…And I was the last woman in his (Uncle Stevo’s) life,” says Nana. Uncle Stjepan was the godfather at her christening. Before his death, after suffering a stroke in none other than the Orient Express, Nana recalls Stevo and his nurse, taking walks in his wheelchair along the Zrinjevac parkway or Tomislav Square. “I remember a checkered blanket on his knees, his gentle face and grey cardboard baskets full of wild strawberries that he used to give me.”

When he would visit Vienna, he would travel in his own private train coupé, and he would stay in hotels, where he would bring his lady friends. He felt at home in the hotels, especially at the prestigious Viennese Astoria, where he was deemed top guest in all the hotel’s books. The Gavrilović Company had an affiliate in Vienna and thus Stjepan lived in Vienna for many months at a time. He would spend his summers playing cards in Ostende and Biaritz in Belgium, while sailing from Rijeka to Alexandria in Egypt during the winters. Because of his tendency to travel so extensively, his descendants called him Weltmann, or global man.

Stjepan Gavrilović was a special man in all senses of the word. One anecdote from the city of Novi Vinodol tells the following tale: As he was sailing on a boat with his friends once, and they passed the Oršić Villa that he had recently purchased for his family, his friends told him that the villa was his own. Stjepan was brief in his comment and stated simply, “oh, lovely!”, never setting foot in it at all.

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Gavrilović Products Showcased in a Traditional Croatian-Style Glass Cabinet

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