Entrepreneur Stories · Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Café Castelo: A small fish in a big pond

Prédrag Okuka’s Story

Café Castelo, a small Quebec City artisanal café, figured out how to maintain its competitive edge. Its president and founder, Prédrag Okuka, launched his business with the goal of creating as many jobs as possible and selling internationally renowned products. Think small-sized company now punching above its weight.

Prédrag Okuka arrived in Quebec in 1994 after escaping war in the former Yugoslavia. He didn’t have a penny to his name nor did he speak a lick of French. Two years later, he knew enough French to start a roasting house and café. For over two generations his family mastered roasting coffee beans to extract their aromas. He found a way of matching his passion for coffee with entrepreneurship and job creation in his new home, Quebec City.

Creating professional connections

With time, his business formed a network of partners, which now include eight independent cafés from the Quebec City area such as Café in and Grains de Soleil. Together they form a cross between a franchise and a coop. For Okuka, helping one another is the key to his business plan. On top of using Café Castelo’s artisanal products, the associated establishments are able to reap other benefits like entrepreneurial advice and lessons from Okuka.

“I’m happy to share my experience and knowledge to help other entrepreneurs. The more small-sized businesses there are in Quebec, the better it is.”

Café Castelo’s network employs 150 people while Café Castelo employs 15.

Prédrag Okuka is passionate about roasting beans, which he continues to do at Café Castelo. He only uses Arabica coffee beans which are renowned for their finesse. “We are rapidly expanding due to the popularity of our products,” explains Okuka.

Standing out in a competitive market

Café Castelo did not let its small size stifle its growth. When the coffee capsule market exploded, Okuka saw this as an opportunity to broaden his business scope. “I told myself, if businesses can produce capsules internationally, then I could do even better here.”

He found a manufacturer who could produce the necessary equipment. However, it wasn’t as easy as he thought to find plastic capsules locally so he ended up having to import them. Okuka knew it would tough but understood that the work required to secure a share of the market was well worth it. As of mid-October 2016, his system will produce 1,000 K-Cup capsules per hour (compatible with the Keurig machines), which will triple the production rate. “I wasn’t expecting such a positive response from consumers,” he admits.

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A year and a half ago, Café Costelo acquired modern equipment and built an 8,000-square foot factory in Saint-Nicolas to increase its production. Okuka believes that soon it will be too small to meet the demand for his roasted coffee and capsules.

From Quebec City to Montreal

This Quebec City business hopes to open partner coffee shops in Montreal and create 150 new jobs in five years. “My daughter and son are involved in the company. This brings new energy and youth. They are even more daring than I am.” To keep up with the trends, Café Costelo is exploring more experimental techniques such as cold brew and nitro coffee.

Café Castelo in numbers:

  • 150: Tons of roasted coffee sold in a year
  • 8: Number of partner coffee shops
  • 15: Number of Café Costelo employees
  • 150: Number of employees in the Café Costelo network
  • 20: Number of cups of coffee Prédrag Okuka drinks in a day

Want to find out more?

Visit Café Castelo’s website.


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