Frankfurt , Germany– One of the first Turkish entrepreneurs to enter the German trade world is Hilmi Selçuk. Although his business life has been full of ups and downs, he has been at the forefront of many innovations. He has been an inspiration to up-and-coming businessmen. He has seen it all.
In 1961 he came as a ship technician to work on ships in Germany. Before long he began to wonder about where to find typical Turkish foods such as olives, cheese, and bulgur (cracked wheat). In the beginning imported goods from Turkey solely for his own personal desires. Later he sold goods as a vendor at sites such as factories and dorms where Turks were working and living. He soon became tired of police raids and spent six months at the door of the municipality building in order to gain a license. When he finally received the permit, the calendar showed the year 1966.
Born into a family from Skopje and a graduate of Istanbul Technical University, Selçuk was not satisfied with the life of a vendor and after six months he received a wholesaling license. “At that point I became a legitimate businessman,” he states. In the 1960s, while most Turks had no idea about wholesale trade, Selçuk became the first Turk to operate a wholesale depot in Frankfurt.
Within three years the businessman's firm was selling and delivering to locations located within 50 km. It began to import food goods from Turkey, Denmark, and Greece. By 1972 he was a well-known businessman who maintained depot units in four different cities from Hamburg to Frankfurt. Already known as one of the biggest economic powers of Germany, until 1976 Frankfurt only had one Turkish business-owner working. At the same time, he assisted 70 Turkish entrepreneurs who were seeking to gain licenses to open businesses.
FAREWLL TO THE LIFE OF A WHOLESALER
After a successful run in trade from 1966 on Hilmi Selçuk began to witness a downturn in his fortunes. After 1976 he had to close down his depots because of competition from other wholesalers. Based on the lack of experienced employees and the highly competitive atmosphere, he decided to shut down his wholesaling activities. He filed for bankruptcy in 1979.
He saw a return in the kindness he had shown to others over the years. He received a year's free rent from Frankfurt's Wholesale Food manager, whom he had enjoyed many glasses of rakı with over the years. Selçuk still recalls that friendship with fondness.
For Selçuk the struggle was over and he was starting life anew. By converting a wholesale market that he had managed in a depot to a retail food market, he was signaling a change in direction. The Anatolian Turkish Food Materials Market became one of Frankfurt's largest markets and for 15 years it sold its goods to a variety of customers.
His fortunes didn't go so well in this venture either but without losing anything he entered a new sector in 1997. He began to produce Turkish-style pastrami under the brand name of “Öz Kayseri” at a production center, Mond-Star, he opened at the skirt of the Taunus mountain located near Frankfurt. “We realized a type of production that was close to the original. I worked on this for two years. We wasted near 80 thousand dollars worth of meat during this period,” states the experienced businessman.
GOLD MEDAL PASTRAMI
Mond-Star now exports pastrami to numerous European countries. Selçuk claims that the company is the only one to produce pastrami according to the original methods and using only natural means. The cumin and spices used in the pastrami come from Kayseri. Among the 1500 firms that 450 officials from the German Food and Agriculture Ministry have inspected, Öz Kayseri was seen worthy of a gold medal five times. The company is the first Turkish one, outside of döner companies, to be deemed worthy of the prize. Outside of Mond-Star, there are still companies such as Namlı, Itikat, Yayla, and Ege Türk in the European pastrami market.
These days the businessman is entering a new sector in addition to pastrami, namely tripe production. With an investment of nearly 700,000 Euro, Selçuk is going to start production of Turkish-style fried meat and tripe. He states that tripe consumption is spreading and increasing throughout Europe. With a staff of 30 people at Mond-Star, Selçuk draws the most support from his son, daughter, and son-in-law. They evaluate and take decisions collaboratively. Although at the beginning he was hesitant to enter the tripe market, his daughter's insistence gradually won him over. (October 2007 – Issue 26th)
PIONEERS IN EUROPE'S FOOD SECTOR
Kavak Pirinç (The company to introduce rice to Europe)
Micro Kuru Gıda (Munich)
Uncle Türk Gıda (Hamburg)
(This list was compiled alphabetically.)