Category Archives: Investment

Mrizi i Zanave – The Culinary Delights of Northern Albania

A restaurant with its farm, vineyard, and vegetable garden, its own olive plantation, delicious wine, lovely nature of the countryside with historic significance sets the ground for a unique experience for many visitors. I’m referring to Mrizi I Zanave in village Fishte of Zadrima commune. This place apart from the historic importance as the birthplace of Gjergj Fishta known as one of the most prominent figures of the Albanian literature and politics of 19th century with significant contribution to the Albanian cause, sets a fine example of a newborn social-economical tourism pattern in traditional Albanian gastronomy. Last weekend i visited Mrizi i Zanave for the first time and I was immediately impressed. The food was delicious, modern touch spicing up local tradition. Everything 100% BIO, 100% Albanian. Freshly picked vegetable from the garden cooked and served in ceramic plates from a nearby ceramic business, dairy products such as goat or cattle cheese processed by the restaurant staff, country ham preserved down in their basement, red Kallmet wine from the local vineyards, local fruit dessert, originate an authentic dining experience even for us locals.

The owner of this place Altin Prenga, who’s passion goes beyond the ambition of a young passionate Albanian cook, had a broader prospective of his investment. The core of his business is offering delicate taste of rural culinary in its natural habitat with absolute fair pricing, through promoting not only values of environment preservation, but also by enhancing the development of local economy in the region. I found this extremely useful as certain Agritourism initiatives are new in Albania. This modern form of intra-cooperation between local businesses in building sustainable Agritourism can sure lead to an increased interest in the quality of regional products, as well as awareness of replicating such business models in other parts of the country. 

Agritourism is not widespread in Albania though people are becoming more interested in knowing how their food is produced and what food they consume. A honey and wine tasting activity, learning about cheese-making, picking fruits or vegetables, or shopping for local hand-crafted gifts can be added value to every local culinary business. These are simple ideas which can add value to a business but also represent the cultural highlights of such localities. Furthermore, two decades of foreign incursion of culinary savors have sort of under-shadowed our traditional gastronomy. Opening an Italian restaurant or something similar to western European taste is more common to find in Tirana or other main cities. It’s not necessarely better just a safer bet. Foreign is mainstream, seen as cool and in vogue. There’s no need to reserve a table in advance in most restorants here, but not at Mrizi I Zanave. I called 2 days in advance to book a table for three in the weekend and I got one only after 3:30 pm. That’s what’s a pattern of successful investment with multiple positive trickle down effects in local economy. That’s a great example to follow. Made in Albania.

Shopping in Tirana, New Trends and Risks to the Shopping Paradise

It’s Sunday afternoon and I feel bothered for no groundbreaking reason actually. Well, it’s October 7th, sunny, +27 degrees, and stupidly enough I’m not taking advantage of Mother Nature’s generosity with these exceptional late summer days. But instead of laying on a beach chair or simply spending time with friends I’m caught by this lame state of being. Crumbling in dissatisfaction and pre-Monday stress I have this super dangerous buying desire that I can’t gratify unless I go shopping. But where actually!!! In the Block area, M. Shyri Street gets tricky with the parking.

Tirana has quite some nice shopping areas and centers. The newest one is Tirana East Gate (TEG),which is the bigger version of the oldest one, QTU.There are quite some popular shops I prefer like Mango, Koton, Motivi, Springfield, Cortefiel, Esprit, etc. Also activities and attraction for little children are not missing. I once even took a train ride with my little nephew in TEG. The super fancy shops and entertaining areas of Citypark, Coin, and ETC certainly don’t fall behind. Therefore, quite some shopping choices in this fast growing retail market targeting different income groups are already in place.

In addition to existing shopping centers spread throughout the city, a new Tirana Business Park facility is being built on the way to Rinas airport. As well Toptani Shopping Center which lays in the heart of Tirana is expected to finish by 2013.

For future nostalgic reasons I decided to take some snapshots of yet non-occupied land closed to Rinas area. In a couple of years these landscapes will be simply nonexistent with current development rhythms. But this is another issue.

But what makes this investment scene so vibrant in light of increased competition in retail market and newly build shopping centers in the outskirts of the capital? Despite the negative trickle down effects of the European crisis, the Albanian economy indicates still growth though at lower levels. Other favorable conditions contributing to these ongoing investments refer to increased demand for goods and services. The migration of population from rural toward urban areas is still present. Car ownership continues to grow, as well as improvements to road infrastructure. All these factors make Tirana a target for investors. The new highway connecting Kosovo to Albania in less then 3 hours potentially adds on to the purchasing power. So does the relocation of many emigrants “escaping” the economic turmoils in neighboring countries. All these combined with limited shopping space in the inner city creates good prospects for capital investments in retail.

As for myself, unfortunately I still use any possibility I have to shop abroad. I’m not quite satisfied with what I’m offered in terms of “products’ quality and prices”. Being in consumers’s shoes is rather difficult to find a balance between product quality and competitive prices. It is definitely not a shopping paradise. Even at seasonal sales and discounts, there’s a shortage of spiced up collections or choices at decent price levels. For the time being is difficult to find retail stores like Zara, H&M, Bershka, Promod that maintain a cost advantage to their competitors in their marketing activities. It’s great to invest in new shopping facilities and building up a sophisticated shopping culture, but the biggest challenge for many retailers out there will be maintaining business sustainability through calibrating their competitive advantages relative to their peers.

The Russians are coming!!!

No longer than two months, while dinning with my boyfriend at the ground floor restaurant of the Twin Towers in Tirana, we couldn’t stop overhearing the conversation coming from the next table on my right. An educated Russian man with a distinguished rasping accent was sitting in the table next to us with two locals. An immediate thought crossed our minds: “A Russian Oligarch doing business in Tirana!” Well, not knowing their occupation we could only make an educated guess judging by their “oil-natural gas-investment”-keywords used in their settled evening talks.

This morning while going through the daily press, I noticed suddenly a small paragraph written in a rather gossiping form about Albpetrol getting privatized at an initial price tag of €150 million. The unofficial sources claims that the potential buyers of Albpetrol are the Sebro-Russian group Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS). Company’s main business is the petroleum, natural gas exploration, production, importing, processing, and marketing of oil products in Serbia. NIS was privatized in 2008 by Gazprom holding the majority of shares. Since then Serbia and Russia have signed an agreement giving 51% of NIS’s shares to Gazprom (for a total value of €400 million and €550 million in investments until 2012). This news was not officially confirmed by the Albanian officials at METE (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Energy), but it is logical to think that prior to 2013 elections it might be a good time for our government to cash in some millions.

Plus to make the rumor even more amusing let me tell you that the last entry for booking a hotel in Himara through was a Russian. Surprised! I’m not really. Just looking at our neighbors in Montenegro, Budva has turned into the new Mallorca of Russia, the ultimate vacation spot for many Russians. Some local Montenegrin papers are writing figures like 40% of property in Montenegro is owned by Russians and that Russian money has also totally inflated the housing market by the Montenegrin coast.

Just driving there you can easily see €1 million price tags on a house in vicinities of Budva and Kotor. Not mentioning here how hard and expensive it gets to fly to Podgorica or especially Tivat from a non-Russian destination.  To make the story short, I’m dying to see how the likelihood of a Russian influence in Albania will develop in the near future. And please don’t forget to tell me if you see Russians by the Ionian coast this summer, ok…