From Yugoslavia to America

Story and photo by MIA MICIC

“It has always been my lifelong dream to open my own deli and market,” Elvir Kohnic said. But those dreams came crashing down when the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia.

That war shattered the lives of thousands of people. Many lives were lost, homes were destroyed, families were ripped apart. The war broke out in 1991 because of religious groups, which divided Yugoslavia into three new countries. Today, those countries are known as Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. This war caused many people to leave and move to new places all over the world. Many families moved to the United States. Among those individuals were Elvir and Zeljka Kohnic.

The Kohnic family now calls Salt Lake City home.

Originally from Sarajevo, the couple immigrated to the United States in 1997. When they moved to Salt Lake City, they didn’t know anyone here, and didn’t know a single word of English. But they knew they couldn’t go back home.

“At that point reality sank in and we realized that this was our new home,” Elvir said in his native language, Serbo-Croatian. Even though they were far away from home, Elvir was not going to give up on his goal of owning his own deli and market.

Being in a new place and away from home made Elvir just fight that much more to open his own deli and market.

“The reason why I wanted to open my own market is so that I can share the cuisine and culture of the Mediterranean and Europe with everyone in Salt Lake City,” Elvir said.

Finally, in 2007 Elvir’s dream came true. He opened his own deli and market and named it Mediterra Mercato Deli and Market.

“It was probably one of the best days of my life because I had worked so hard for this all of my life,” Elvir said.

In the end, all of his hard work paid off. “I was so proud of him for achieving his goal,” Zeljka said with a big smile on her face. Being able to open his own market taught Elvir to never give up and to fight for what you want.

Mediterra, located at 3540 S. State St., has a very casual atmosphere that is perfect for dining with friends, family and co-workers. The restaurant offers a lot of authentic Bosnian food such as dolmas (stuffed grape leaves with rice and vegetables), sarma (stuffed cabbage with rice and meat), burek pita, (thin, flaky dough filled with meat), sirnica (thin, flaky dough filled with cheese), and spanakopita (thin, flaky dough filled with cheese and spinach), and also their most popular dessert, baklava. Also available are pizza, paninis, pastries, crepes, salads, soups and coffee.

“I like when I see people come in and enjoy some lunch and coffee with their friends,” Elvir said.

Mediterra sells imported products and ingredients from Eastern and Western European countries, including Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Greece. Customers may purchase different types of cheeses, oils, meats, peppers, soups, dairy products, chocolates, jams, teas, coffee and European drinks.

The interior of Mediterra makes patrons feel like they are in a European country. European music plays in the background and the walls are decorated with images from Europe. The couple try to incorporate as much of their culture as possible in their market.

“As I look back on my life through the years I have learned to never take anything for granted, and I feel very lucky that we got out of Yugoslavia safely and that we were given a fresh start in the United States,” Elvir said.

Elvir and Zeljka’s story proves that with determination many things can be achieved.

“We wish to cherish the past and look forward to the future,” Zeljka said.

Today, Elvir and Zeljka have a 13-year-old daughter, Sara, and live a normal life. He runs the deli and store full time, Monday through Sunday. Zeljka has another job but she comes and helps Elvir after she gets off work. They don’t deny that they have had many struggles to get where they are now, but if anything this has just made them stronger individuals.

“Sometimes I sit and think to myself about everything and can’t believe what people in Yugoslavia had been through and where we are today, and I am just so thankful for this opportunity,” Elvir said. “I got to make my dream come true of opening my own market. Sometimes it is really hard to believe.”