Santiago Nieto, David Folis, and Valeria Garcés own Morfar, an empanada shop in Split, Croatia. “We met in Split by coincidence, we had friends in common,” says Santiago. “The Argentinian community isn’t massive so it’s quite normal to know people.” David and Valeria sold empanadas through social media, and Santiago was a customer. Later, the couple decided to make a full-time business out of their empanadas and invited Santiago to join. “Now we are almost a family,” Santiago adds.
Santiago is from Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. Located in the desert region of Patagonia, it’s a place where “you must be creative to make the most out of the limited resources you have,” he explains. The city was established when oil was found while looking for fresh water. And at 1,800 km (1,120 miles) from the capital city, Buenos Aires, Santiago says it’s “a bit lost” inside the country, “so you understand from quite young how huge the world is.”
Valeria and David come from Rosario, on the west bank of the Paraná River, 300 km (186 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires. The city is known for the creation of the Argentinian national flag, rich architectural heritage, riverside scenery, and a vibrant culture and nightlife. “Economically it is the second most important port of the country and an important industrial hub,” Santiago explains. Today, Rosario is also known as the hometown of famous Argentinian fútbol world champions Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria.
Family roots in Croatia brought Valeria and Santiago back to the country. Valeria’s family is from the island of Olib, close to Zadar, and Santiago’s family comes from Srijane, north of Omiš. David’s ancestors also come from the region, but across the Adriatic Sea in Ancona, Italy.
Santiago arrived in Split in 2018, while Valeria and David came in 2021, each citing the calm city’s special rhythm and relaxed way of life as reasons to stay. “We live in a paradise framed by the Adriatic and beautiful nature,” says Santiago. “But then we had to figure out what to do for a living.” Each possessing that entrepreneurial spark, they partnered up and started Morfar. “We are really grateful that this idea is now our financial support,” says Santiago.
Meaning “to eat” in Lunfardo, an Argentinian dialect, David, Valeria, and Santiago opened Morfar in June 2022. Before starting their business, each had different careers—David is a jeweler, Valeria a calligrapher, and Santiago a marketing manager. But they knew an empanada shop would do well. It’s a new thing in Split, and something that the city’s Argentinian and broader South American community would enjoy. “We love to be independent and establish our own rules even if that means working more, because it’s working for something we believe in and is bringing joy to others,” says Santiago. “At the end of the day, we are really happy for everything Morfar made us experience, the people we met, and all the lessons we learnt.”
Each brings a different skill set to Morfar. David is the handyman and built the shop almost entirely on his own. Valeria is the detail-oriented one who reads the small print in laws and contracts; she sets the bar sky-high for the entire team. And Santiago is the frontman: good with languages, marketing, spreadsheets, and digital tools. “The three of us are really responsible, hard-working, and efficient,” adds Santiago. “We don’t play around and when stuff needs to be done, it’s done.”
They’ve found that operating a business in such a seasonal city, with busy summers and winters receiving less foot traffic, can present challenges. “Our first winter was a bit sad,” says Santiago. “Some days, waiting for people to come, you can start wondering if you are doing something bad, what else you could be doing to make it better, but it’s just how the city works.” Still, they are grateful to both the Latin and Argentinian community for supporting them unconditionally. “Same with the expats and the locals who dare to try empanadas and keep coming back, even when it’s not part of their tradition,” says Santiago.
The Flavors of Morfar
David cooks the various empanada fillings, adding that rustic touch inspired by the Argentinian celebrity chef Francis Mallmann. Most are traditional Argentinian fillings such as the criolla, with minced beef, onions, green onions, peppers, olives, and eggs. “It’s a mix of the recipes from our families,” says Santiago. “It’s the classic for a reason.” (They make a vegan version too, omitting the eggs and adding lentils instead of beef.)
“The chicken one is a bit more creative,” says Santiago. “We’re trying to recreate a countryside way of cooking called pollo al disco.” It’s made with white wine and a mix of seasonal vegetables cooked over the fire to add a distinct smoky flavor. The sir kapula empanada features onions, mozzarella, and a pinch of chimichurri.
And then, of course, there are Croatian-influenced fillings. “You can’t find them anywhere else in the world but at Morfar,” says Santiago. In their adjvar empanada, the filling deconstructs the famous Balkan sauce of grilled red peppers and eggplant, with the vegetables left in chunks while also being filled with adjvar. “In this way, you can taste the vegetables but also the original flavors,” says Santiago. Another one popular with both locals and tourists is the soparnik, a traditional Dalmatian pie with chard, olive oil, garlic, and onions. “We’ve learnt the recipe from ladies who have done it their entire life and we are really close to the original flavor,” says Santiago.
Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
When opening your own business, Santiago says, it’s all about fresh ideas, hard work, and consistency. “Find your niche,” he adds. The smaller, the better. Build the first 100 customers as your base and do everything for them. “Every person supporting your business is the most important one on the planet,” he says. “Those 100 will become 1,000 and then millions. Also know your numbers, save up money for the hard times, and make projections as real as possible.” Your business will need plenty of time to match your dreams. “It’s all about patience and believing in yourself, your idea, and your team,” says Santiago. “We need more entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas in this world so finish these lines and start right now.”
Visit Morfar at Porinova 4 in Split, Croatia, where you can buy other Argentinian products including alfajores, yerba mate, and Fernet (though technically Italian, the bitter liquor is extremely popular in Argentina).
Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Get to know the work and lives of more global professionals who turned a passion for travel into their livelihood.