Brooklyn's First Turkish Fish Restaurant: Yusuf Başusta's Entrepreneurial Journey

For those longing to enjoy a seafood feast reminiscent of Istanbul's shores, there is a go-to destination in New York that has been satisfying customers for 25 years: Liman Restaurant. When it first opened its doors in March 1999 in Brooklyn, there were only two prominent places to visit in the area: Randazzo's Clam Bar and Roll N Roaster. Even Dunkin' Donuts closed at 11:00 pm due to security concerns. It was a high-crime neighborhood. When word got out that entrepreneur Yusuf Başusta decided to open a seafood restaurant on Emmons Avenue in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay, some said, "He must be crazy." Initially a small 30-seat venue, Liman Restaurant gradually transformed into a spacious establishment with a seating capacity of 250. Over time, it became a favorite spot for seafood lovers in the area. Not only people from Brooklyn, but also those from distant states and settlements such as Queens, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut started flocking to the restaurant for their seafood cravings.

Depending on the season, the restaurant offers a variety of 10-15 different fish dishes. Additionally, the menu includes 4-5 meat options. The establishment employs an average of 35-50 staff members. Approximately 95% of the customers are Americans. In addition to fish imported from various countries around the world, the restaurant also serves Turkish fish such as anchovies, sea bass, and bluefish.

Başusta claims that he loves fish and is fortunate to be able to pursue a career doing what he loves. "Otherwise, it would be challenging to run the same place with the same enthusiasm for 25 years," he says. He occasionally goes fishing on his boat and visits the fish market. "During the first three years of opening the restaurant, I personally went to the fish market every day," he recalls.

Başusta emphasizes that it took about 3-4 years from the opening for the restaurant to establish itself and progress. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed Liman Restaurant. They had to throw away everything, from tables and chairs to cabinets and countertops.

Liman Restaurant ranks among the top three most expensive Turkish restaurants on Open Table and Yelp. Başusta says, "We have developed a unique menu from scratch here. We have been striving to offer our customers the same quality and taste for 25 years. We have never compromised on the quality of fish."

Originally from the Pazar district of Rize, Başusta has been in the restaurant industry since the age of 17. After moving from Rize to Yalova at the age of 17, the entrepreneur had his first encounter with the restaurant business there. He worked on international cruise ships for 3 years, learning French cuisine and attending culinary courses. In 1991, he came to Miami on a cruise and took a 2-week break to rent a car and embark on a journey from Miami to New York. During those years, he worked at Harem restaurant in Brooklyn, which was operated by a relative. He worked with Chef Orhan Yeğen when Turkish Kitchen first opened and managed a restaurant on Long Island. Eventually, he became a partner in the buffet at the current location of Liman Restaurant. Later, due to his passion for fish, he transformed the venue into a seafood restaurant, turning his hobby into a profession. When asked if his target audience when opening the restaurant was the Turkish community, he replies, "There weren't many Turks in this area back then. Our target audience was customers who were not very familiar with fish menus before." After Liman opened, it immediately attracted Russian and Jewish customers. He emphasizes that there are still Russian customers who visit regularly order anchovy to feed their children. Over the past quarter-century, Liman has also been hosting the second and third generations of its first customers. Başusta says, "I take great pleasure in that. You already make money, but when a customer's child, or even grandchild, comes to us as a customer, it makes me very happy."

The restaurant also has a separate terrace by the seaside. Although Başusta has expanded the restaurant over time, when asked if he plans to open another branch, he says, "I am just one person. Managing 40-50 employees is not an easy task. I could open 10 more places; thankfully, I have the financial means to do so, but it is challenging to be present and manage them all."

The head chef at Liman has been working there for 20 years. There are also employees who have worked at the restaurant and then opened their own establishments in different neighborhoods such as Long Island and Queens.

Başusta's dream is to open a seafood restaurant in Florida. He continues feasibility studies for this purpose. His son Deniz works in the finance sector and managed the restaurant during the pandemic for 2 years. If they open a restaurant in Florida one day, it is highly likely that father and son will work together. "I don't consider retirement; I haven't thought about it in my entire life. I have been working for 45 years. Maybe I'll continue working at a slower pace," he says.

Apart from Turkish cuisine, Başusta's favorite cuisine is Japanese. He particularly enjoys döner and Adana kebab, although he remarks that they are not easily found everywhere.

In his spare time outside the restaurant, Başusta has an interest in antique cars. He owns a 1961 Cadillac that he drives in the summers and a 1984 Mercedes S550. A devoted Galatasaray fan, he never misses an opportunity to attend away matches. His greatest pleasure is to enjoy a cigar on the terrace with a view of the sea at sunset. Başusta visits his hometown Rize every year and also owns a small boutique hotel in the Pazar district of Rize. Photos by Koray Kasap