Teji’s on Guadalupe makes a point to be a student-friendly environment, but it’s not the free Wi-Fi that keeps students coming back. It’s the one face that sticks around for almost the entire day, minus a cigarette break or two.
Steve Vulat started working at Teji’s in 1998 shortly after moving to the United States to escape war in his home country of Croatia. Vulat said the cultural differences in the United States were far greater than any he encountered before, but he was determined to find a place for himself.
“I came here and only knew three words in English,” Vulat said.
Vulat said he attributes his interest in India to the country’s friendly relationship with his former home of Croatia, which was part of Yugoslavia until the 1990s.
“I know all of India’s history because you must know it in school,” Vulat said. “There’s a good relationship between the two countries, like the U.S. and Canada.”
After getting a job at Teji’s, Vulat would go to the church next door every night for two months to attempt to master the language.
“After work I’d go to school to learn English,” Vulat said. “Every night at seven o’clock I’d be there.”
Vulat has 23 years of restaurant management experience under his belt. He said the success of any restaurant depends on honesty and teamwork. He makes it an effort to work side by side with his employees who call him by his nickname, “Steve-O.”
Vulat said he asks employees a simple question when he describes his management style: Do you want me to be your friend or your boss?
Most employees reply to Vulat’s question with “boss,” perhaps because they are intimidated. But Vulat said that if this were truly the way the business operated, most employees would be fired after only a few days.
“Friends work like a team,” Vulat said. “Teamwork is number one for working in restaurants. Everybody must be together. Ten people must be one person.”
Assistant manager Brian Beavers started working at Teji’s after a car accident put him in a coma and forced him to relearn how to walk and speak. Beavers said Vulat is easy to work with because he trusts Beaver’s ability to oversee the restaurant and respects his past work experience in the industry before the car accident changed his life.
“We all work very well as a team,” Beavers said. “Steve’s a very nice guy, he cuts people slack.”
Beavers said the quality of teamwork amongst employees at Teji’s to extend its hours on Guadalupe to 3 a.m. is unlike other restaurants on the drag who have cut back.
Teji’s customer-friendly reputation has made it a favorite among UT students. Alex Harris, rhetoric and writing junior, visits Teji’s once a week and said she noticed Vulat’s diligence.
“Every time that me and my friends would go there we’d see this same guy,” Harris said. “The waiters would switch out but Steve is always there. After a while we just introduced ourselves.”
Business sophomore Susana Lugo was also impressed by Vulat’s presence.
“It’s nice that the manager is usually around,” Lugo said. “If food takes too long, he’ll stop by the table himself.”
Vulat said honesty and leveling with customers is a key element to the success of any restaurant.
“The most important thing is being very open with your customers, very honest, be friendly if something happens,” Vulat said.