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Interview with Deniz Kocak PDF Print E-mail
Written by TACCI Admin   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 14:47

Interview with Deniz Kocak  

We had a very special interview with Deniz Kocak who is the manager of Turkuaz Restaurant in NY. Mrs. Kocak told us about her career path and restaurant business, Turkish cuisine, and how Turkuaz has became a well-known restaurant in US.



Mrs. Kocak, can you tell us about your career path? How did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant business? What inspired you?

I have a very diverse career path. I was born in Sweden, therefore I am fluent in Swedish and that's how I found my job at the trade section of the Swedish General Consulate in Istanbul. Later on, I moved to the trade section of the South African General Consulate. When the consulate closed down in Istanbul, I started to work in the private sector as a marketing manager for another Swedish company, Scala, and after that I joined the insurance company of Boyner Holding as a sales and marketing manager. When I moved to the United States, I started to work in an American textile company as a project coordinator and stayed there for 7 years. 

How did you get started? How and why did you decide to open a restaurant that serves Turkish cuisine?

I didn't actually start the restaurant business. When I met my husband, Dr. Ali Kocak, he already owned Turkuaz, which he founded with his partners in 2000. I met him in 2004, so he was already in the restaurant business. I wasn't very much involved; he had his partners and it was just like a family business. Therefore I started getting a bit familiar but I can't say that I was experienced in this restaurant sector. In 2009, my husband took over the restaurant from his partners and since then I have become more and more involved. In 2011, I resigned from my job at the textile company and have been working at Turkuaz full time ever since.

After starting your career at Turkuaz have you ever encountered any challenges of owning a Turkish restaurant in the U.S. and how did you manage to overcome these?

Having an ethnic restaurant in New York City is entertaining but it is a big challenge. The American customers are more familiar with Mexican, Chinese and somewhat with Indian cuisine. Although some know a couple items from the Turkish cuisine, they are not that familiar. They know some dishes like Hummus, Babaganoush, Doner Kebab, etc but they don't know in detail. So when you look at the challenge, it is more about inviting these American customers and trying to persuade them into having an adventure of tasting and appreciating Turkish food, and experiencing the food with mezes and so on. 

What do you think differentiates Turkish cuisine from other world cuisines? 

Well, spices are different and I guess the way that we marinate the meat, and the way we serve... and some of our different traditional dishes like Hunkar Begendi, which is a very different taste and not similar to other cuisines. We also use grape leaves and the various uses of eggplants are what makes Turkish cuisine different than other cuisines. And also, we have many vegetarian dishes, which is a big richness for us.

What are your thoughts on the representation of Turkish cuisine outside of Turkey? Are we doing a good job in introducing it?

Turkish cuisine is not very well known and there is a big room for improvement. Some of the dishes are known but they are not identified as Turkish cuisine, like Adana kebab, Iskender kebab which are confused with Greek gyro or shawarma and unfortunately since the food carts on the streets of NY sells some of these dishes, it reflects badly on us. It is kind of a setback for our cuisine and for us. Besides the lamb and chicken shish kebab and the hummus, we have a lot of more dishes to promote and offer. We have a huge variety of vegetable dishes, zucchini pancakes as we all know, cheese pastries and there is big room for these foods' improvement and promotion. We could all do a better job together in promoting our country's cuisine. 

Turkuaz was opened in 2000 while there weren't many Turkish Restaurants in U.S. Is there any change in the restaurant business in the past 12 years?

There are many more Turkish restaurants in New York City than in the year 2000. Therefore I have to say that the knowledge of the Turkish cuisine has increased, but still needs to continue. New York City is a dynamic city; every day new residents and also tourists are coming, and we have to increase our promotions. And when it comes to challenges, regulations in the city have changes like now all the restaurants have to display their health grade on their window. And every year, it gets stricter rules and unfortunately the prices of the meat and vegetables increase, which is one of our economic challenges. On the other hand, new restaurants have opened up in the city and more tourists from the U.S. are going to Turkey and therefore get more familiarized with the culture and the cuisine. Furthermore, Turkish cuisine is delicious, and customers have many options to choose from, which capture everybody's hearts.

What is Tukuaz's usual venue like? Are there many Americans that frequent your restaurant?

Yes, our 90% of our customers are American. Huge portion of them are tourists that come in during the summer. Columbia University is nearby and the faculty and students are international. They know about Turkish cuisine and they like the environment. Turkuaz aims to provide them good food and also the feeling of being in Turkey.


Turkuaz offers a very traditional ambience for its customers with the décor and the belly dancing show on the weekend nights. Can we say that it is also important for you to let your customers experience traditional ways of Turkish culture?


Yes, definitely. This comes as a whole package. Idea is when the customer walks into Turkuaz they will be in a totally different place from NY; we are giving them a completely new place which is calm, relax and authentic. Décor is over-the-top and we have lots of decoration items from Turkey. We have a traditional area called  the Sark Corner, which is decorated with pillows and softened corners. Our servers wear cultural costumes and we play traditional music. So the ambiance and the food go hand-in-hand, which gives off the feeling of being in Turkey, and being away from the rush and the stress of the city.


As the owner of a well-known Turkish restaurant in Manhattan what are your tips and suggestions for running a successful restaurant in the U.S.?


I think the most important thing is food, food, food, like how they say location, location, location in the real estate business. That's the most important. Whether the restaurant is chef-owned or the owner has knowledge of the kitchen and the cuisine, the owner must know the menu very well. Finding a good location comes in second: The neighborhood should be preferred to have a good restaurant like ours. And then the marketing aspect is important as well; that's where I try to use my years of marketing experience and knowledge. Furthermore, a highly professional service is one of the required features. Customers come back for the good food, but they also appreciate it when they are treated well by the staff.

Why did you choose to locate your restaurant in Manhattan's Upper West Side instead of Midtown or Brooklyn where the Turkish restaurants are mainly located?

That decision was made before I was in the picture, by my husband and his partners. But I guess they had foreseen that this is a growing area. One other reason is that it is really close to Columbia University. Day by day the Upper West Side is getting more and more frequented by young and intellectual people.


Are you planning on expanding into other areas in the U.S.?


We are definitely planning to expand out of NY City, perhaps into another city in the NY state, but we don't have any plans to move out of this state because each state has different rules and regulations. We want to be situated in NY because we are very familiar with the regulations here, and we also get to keep an eye on the restaurant; it's definitely an advantage because in this business, you have to be involved in every aspect, such as production, service, supply, etc.

Thank you for your time and your support for TACCI!



Last Updated ( Tuesday, 02 July 2013 21:33 )