After spending 32 years in New York, in 1999, Ercan Karabeyoğlu returned to his homeland with his American wife and two daughters. However, things didn't go as expected with his partner. Instead he got into contact with Nejat Güllüoğlu and promised him that he was willing to leave his wife and older daughter in Turkey, while he would return to the U.S. with his younger daughter in order to bring the brand to America. He first opened a Güllüoğlu branch in Brooklyn. Since then Karabeyoğlu has successfully opened up six branches in the United States, four of which are in New York, one in Los Angeles and one in Miami. The 2011 revenue for the branches in New York was two million dollars.
How many branches are there?
In 2004, we opened our first U.S. branch in Brooklyn, at the end of 2009, we opened a branch in Manhattan. Our third branch was opened in 2010 in Astoria Queens and we bought the whole building… We also have a depot in Astoria. Our fourth branch was opened in New Jersey in February. We have a branch in Los Angeles and our work in Miami is ongoing. Our initial goal is to have ten branches in New York.
What product sells the most?
Definitely our pistachio baklava and our su böreği... We sell approximately 15 trays of each every day. Our Kağıthane branch in Istanbul sells 25 to 30 trays of baklava a day. We are now becoming quite competitive with simit. Americans call simit 'The Lord of the Rings'. They also sell for meetings. For just one meeting we sell 15 trays at once. I am not even counting those days. For example at meetings held by Muhtar Kent and more recently Donald Trump, we sell tray after tray of baklava.
Who else are your patrons?
Right now in Astoria Queens it is the Greeks. We are operating in an area that has the highest population of Greeks after Greece. There are more Greeks there than there are in Cyprus. We have opened up right next to their biggest church. During Easter we sell baklava to 50,000 people. The Mayor of Brooklyn is also our regular customer.
How do you supply your baklava?
Right now our baklava is prepared and cooked in Turkey and then brought over here. The baklava sold here is exactly the same as the baklava you get in Turkey.
Founded in Turkey, Çiğköftem has now acquired 154 branches while also managing to draw in customers from America, the homeland of the hamburger. Explaining that they brought in 7.3 million liras in revenue last year, Çiğköftem Brand Manager Ahmet Kaya states that their target for this year is to reach 10 million liras. We met with Mehmet Atmaca, one of the partners of the Çiğköftem restaurant located in Manhattan's East Village, who tells us that they have developed a special product for the U.S. entitled the Çiburger. Atmaca says, "We aim to open 15 branches in Manhattan alone."
How long have you been in America?
I have been working in construction here for 30 years. I am from Of, Trabzon. I got into this business through a relative of mine and the owner of Çiğköftem Ahmet Güler. We opened our first restaurant in Manhattan. My partner Cengiz Demir worked on auto bodies. Both of us have since left our jobs and are working on this. We opened our second shop in New Jersey.
Do Americans like çiğköfte?
We have a stable clientele. Fifty percent of our customers are American. They are curious and they like to try things. Our restaurants are vegetarian… Meanwhile, Mehmet Okur is a good customer of ours.
Were you interest in Çiğköfte?
Because I like spicy food, I would eat çiğköfte. What is it that our ancestors say? It isn't where you are born it is where you eat. We are now thinking about selling wholesale throughout America. There is a company selling Turkish products online throughout North America. We have spoken with them and we will be selling our products throughout America.
Simit Sarayı will be opening in New York in August. At present, Simit Sarayı has over 200 branches and 3,500 employees operating throughout Turkey, the Middle East and Europe. We will be opening up our first shop in the U.S. on seventh street in Manhattan. By the end of next year, our brand aims to open four branches in New York as well as new branches in Chicago, Seattle and California.
This is a translation of an article originally written by Sinan Özedincik.