About 20 years ago, Erişkin, who used to work in the baby clothing sector, decided to switch professions at the advice of a relative. Together with the relative, he opened a small pide salon in the İstanbul district of Çağlayan. Eight months later, after learning how to make good pide, Erişkin decided to open up his own place.
When looking for the perfect spot, a friend who studied at İstanbul University suggested that a location in the vicinity of the university would be ideal. Erişkin decided to rent a space on the ground floor of a building, one that lacked even a front door, located on a narrow street in Vezneciler. The owner at the time warned him, “My son, you’ll never get a business going here,” to which Erişkin responded: “Uncle, that’s what you think. Things will work out.”
Burhan Kuzu a former customer
When Erişkin opened up the pide salon that year, the school year had not yet started. Still, sales were better than expected and every day, more and more people came. Then, when the school semester began, people came by in droves. “We were very surprised. We had no idea that the place had such potential,” Erişkin recalls. In addition, it seemed that no one wanted to get up and leave the small and crowded little shop, even when their pide was finished, putting Erişkin, who did not want to order people to “get up and leave,” in a difficult position as he always had a long line of customers waiting. Erişkin believes one of the reasons his customers were so reluctant to leave was the incredibly comfortable chairs he had in the restaurant. The next year, he switched the chairs with stools instead.
In 1998, the landlord notified Erişkin that he would be selling the building. Since his business was going so well, Erişkin bought over the building.
Today, Saray Pide continues to do roaring business. Erişkin says one of the keys to success is “Never forget where you came from, and remember that financial gains are always temporary.” He adds: “All thanks are due to God. I was raised in poverty. Since we didn’t have the money, my mother would advise us to chew olives more than once. But thanks to God, we now have good days.” Saray Pide counts among its devoted customers people such as Professor Hussein Hatemi as well as former academic and founding member of the parliamentary Constitutional Commission Burhan Kuzu. In fact, Erişkin says Kuzu, who is also an İstanbul deputy, used to frequent Saray Pide all the time.
Erişkin’s success is not just linked to his delicious pide but also to the way customers here are treated. The restaurant has a welcoming atmosphere and is not just a place where one comes only to eat, but is also a “study hall” for students, a place where friends can catch up and an informal meeting spot as well.
At Friday prayers, sales stop
Erişkin is someone who people from all walks of life can connect with. Though his conservative stance might have made some people wary, over time everyone has grown to accept him as he is.
When it first became clear that he was closing down his restaurant for Friday prayers, some customers complained: “We only have an hour’s break on Fridays. How can you close your shop?” Erişkin told them politely but firmly: “I follow God’s orders. If you want, there are other spots where you can eat when my restaurant is closed. You just have to accept this half-hour closure every week.” After clarifying where he stood on Friday prayers, Erişkin won over many hearts and had no more problems or complaints on this matter. Despite the fact that he closes down the restaurant during prayers, he still has lines of people waiting. Over the years, Erişkin also decided not to close down the actual salon during prayers so that students and customers would have somewhere to sit, though sales stop during this period. The sense of trust between Erişkin and his customers is such that even during the whole mad cow disease beef scare, sales did not dwindle at his restaurant.
A ‘kandil’ program on the bottom floor, while leftists meet on the terrace
Erişkin’s Turkmen assistant came to him one day and said, “Today I saw something very noteworthy.” He went on to describe how some female students were conducting a “kandil” (religious day) program on the first floor of the salon while a few leftist students were organizing a meeting on the terrace. “What a place this is, where people can feel so at home,” the assistant remarked.
On another occasion, some incidents involving two opposing groups had broken out at the university. Erişkin was worried when he saw both groups at his shop, one group on one floor and the other on another floor, and everyone with an implement in their hands. Erişkin spoke with the leaders of each group but they assured him that while they were angry with each another, Saray Pide was like a home to them, and, to quote one of the group leaders, “Would a person ever damage their own home?”