by Kirby Lindsay, posted 17 August 2012
The ‘Store Closing’ signs on Istanbul Imports are serious. The store is closing, on August 31st, and the carpets will be gone. Only a few days remain to get in on clearance prices.
Some have questioned if the closing sale, in its fourth month, is a gimmick. It’s not. Owners Suryya Gokeri, and her husband Gencer, decided they’d had enough. “In the middle of April,” she said,9 “we decided to close, and a week later we put the sign up.”
They’d gone through the worst Christmas shopping season they’d seen in 20 years of retail, and rising debt had them discouraged. Yet, after the signs went up, friends, customers and passers-by poured in and bought, and bought, and bought and, well, by the middle of May the store started making money again. “When you pay off your debt,” Gokeri explained, “your eyes turn more hopeful. By the end of May, we could see in front of us again.”
The closing sale paid off the debts, but the couple didn’t want to go back to the same business model and end up with the same problems. “When we age one day,” Gokeri said, “we will not say we did not try everything. We did try everything!”
Starting October 1st, they will try Café Turko with many customers’ favorite aspects of Istanbul Imports combined with the success Gokeri has found teaching cooking classes and doing catering. The Café will provide a genuine Turkish experience, but now they will carry “anything related to Turkish coffee, and anything for serving.”
Just as before, Café Turko visitors will be able to feel transported to the markets of Istanbul by stepping through the door. Now, though, customers will be able to taste the Turkish treats and teas – and purchase groceries to carry the experience home. Gokeri promised, “a very authentic environment,” she said, “like an authentic Turkish café.”
“It will smell nice,” she said, and she will decorate the space with the same carpets, pillows, and chairs found in any Turkish café in Istanbul, and, “we’re still going to have textiles,” Gokeri enthused, “I love my textiles.” Customers will be able to browse a selection of specialty groceries including grape leaves, olive oil dips, pomegranate tea, juices and nectars, along with the spice mixtures Gokeri makes. The café will also carry books on Turkish history, cooking, politics and Islam, and all foods and drinks will be served on real Turkish dishware as well. “Glasses and plates are very important to me,” Gokeri explained, “I’m going to bring my plates from home.”
Her sons, currently visiting family in Turkey, will bring a coffee roaster and a Turkish coffee grinder to Seattle. According to Gokeri, Turkish people here don’t have access to a proper grinder, and so, “it’s very hard for us to find Turkish coffee here.” The café will also serve tea, but brewed – not in bags. And both beverages come with a piece of Turkish delight or chocolate on the side.
An Expanded Menu
The Café will also serve a few pre-prepared dishes including (all day) a Turkish breakfast – Turkish feta cheese, Kashari cheese, Turkish black & green olives, a hard-boiled egg, half a tomato and Turkish cucumbers, and, of course, Turkish bread. Gokeri will also serve pastries, and a few salads – and provide catering services – from Café Turko.
She also might host cooking classes in the space. “I am doing them at PCC Natural Markets, mostly,” she said, “I used to do only Turkish and Mediterranean dishes,” but when she incorporated vegetarian, and then vegan dishes, she found the vegan classes “always have a waiting list.” She enjoys widening the vegetarian and vegan menus of her students – and may teach them at Café Turko – although she acknowledged that she doesn’t stick to a vegan diet herself. “It’s hard for a Turkish person to give up yogurt,” she admitted, smiling.
The Café, like the store and her classes, will showcase Turkish ways. “It’s the culture, and conversation, and geography,” she explained. “All this three months, we’ve been hearing that people are going to miss all the Turkish items,” and now they won’t have to.
All Done In Place
The decision to close Istanbul Imports came after the couple made an admirable effort to wait out truly bad timing. The store location, on the block of North 34th Street between Fremont Avenue and the Aurora Bridge, has witnessed several years of upheaval. It started in 2005 with the closures due to a seismic rebuild of the Fremont Bridge approaches, then closure of a neighboring anchor business (Capers,) construction, across the street, of the Lakeview Building (in 2007,) and repaving of the street (in 2011.)
After a long wait for things to get better, the Gokeris decided to change locations and open the Café instead. They looked at spaces around Fremont, and in Wallingford and Greenwood, seeking something smaller, for less rent. Instead they found smaller spaces that cost more or, in one case, that they could only lease for two years.
In May, “we had to give three months notice,” on the North 34th location, Gokeri said. When they did, “the landlord offered to install the plumbing,” she reported, for restrooms and a sink, in the space they already had. So, they decided to stay.
So, Istanbul Imports will close August 31st. The space will undergo renovations for one month, and then Café Turko will open October 1st … even if the space isn’t quite ready. “We will still open,” Suryya Gokeri insisted, after all, she observed, “we need to make money.”
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©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.