Pera Mediterranean Brasserie opened its doors in 2006, founded by Burak Karacam and Chef Sezai Çelikbaş. Today, the duo continues to lead the Pera team, operating two locations—one in Soho and the other on Madison Avenue. As Pera approaches its 20th year, it stands as a testament to longevity in the realm of Turkish restaurants, with only Turkish Kitchen surpassing the 25-year mark. While some Turkish establishments in New York City have undergone changes in ownership or closure, Pera remains steadfast. What is their secret? How have they managed to thrive for such a remarkable length of time? Pera Mediterranean Brasserie is more than just a business venture for Burak Karacam and Sezai Çelikbaş; it is a cherished part of their lives. They have wholeheartedly embraced Pera as their own, and the restaurant holds sentimental value akin to a beloved child. It begs the question: Is there something special about Pera that draws people in, leaving them compelled to return?
Occasionally, there are those who express interest in acquiring Pera or opening similar establishments. However, in the eyes of Karacam and Çelikbaş, no one could truly offer the value and essence that they have poured into Pera. They have transcended mere commercial transactions. For instance, a group of Greeks visited once, aspiring to replicate their success. While they admired the location and atmosphere, their perspective differed significantly from that of the Pera team. Pera is more than just an ongoing operation with employees and economic value—it cannot be bought upfront. This, one could say, is the secret.
Sezai Çelikbaş proudly asserts that Pera continues to provide the same taste, quality, and service that delighted customers 16 years ago. Throughout their journey, Karacam and Çelikbaş have mentored and supported aspiring chefs who have gone on to open their own establishments. Additionally, Sezai has successfully trained chefs who are not of Turkish descent but possess the skills to replicate his culinary expertise.
Have there been offers to open Pera in different locations, such as Las Vegas or Florida? ‘’Such offers have indeed been made. However, one must consider that we are not as young as we once were,’’ Burak says.
Regarding the clientele, there are regular patrons who frequent Pera, including some well-known personalities. However, they prefer not to disclose names, as many of them are involved in political affairs or possess a public profile. A scene was filmed in Pera for the movie 'Duplicity,' starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, in 2009.
Karacam spends approximately 60-70% of his time at Pera since it is their beloved creation. During the summer, he tends to spend more time in Soho. The Soho location can accommodate around 200-220 guests, featuring a spacious courtyard. Pera occasionally hosts parties and events, including weddings. As for operating hours, Pera is currently closed on Sundays.
A TASTE THAT WITHSTANDS TIME
The menu at Pera Mediterranean Brasserie undergoes occasional but calculated changes to keep up with evolving trends. Certain core items remain, as they are an essential part of the restaurant's identity. For example, Adana kebab has been a staple for 16 to 17 years, but slight variations and additions have been introduced over time.
Sezai explains that his approach to cooking has always been rooted in what he learned from his father. He believes that had he deviated from those teachings, he wouldn't have achieved the same level of success. Having grown up working alongside his father, Sezai is dedicated to continuing the family legacy and cherishes the traditional techniques passed down through generations.
Reflecting on their beginnings in Türkiye, Sezai recalls how their restaurant operated more as a family business, with the three brothers working together. The staff was small, and the atmosphere was intimate. Mistakes were met with stern reprimands from their father, emphasizing the importance of learning from errors. This strong bond and disciplined approach shaped their childhood and laid the foundation for their careers.
As for the next generation, Burak doesn't necessarily envision his children taking over the restaurant. He believes they possess creative spirits that may lead them elsewhere.
Burak says his favorite places like Taverna Kyclades, Turkish Kitchen, Milos, and Avra. He has indulged in the flavors of traditional Turkish pide and dined at iconic venues in Clifton and Paterson. One of the greatest pleasures for the two partners is finishing their work early during UEFA Champions League and World Cup matches to find a place together and watch the game.
When it comes to the scale of their operation, Pera Madison can easily accommodate up to 350 patrons, thanks to the combined efforts of their talented team. Their reputation has attracted not only locals but also visitors from San Francisco, Palo Alto, and even Los Angeles. The restaurant had even briefly explored the online market, delivering kebabs to customers across the United States.
A FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Diners can expect to spend around $40 per person for a lunch without alcoholic beverages, not including taxes and gratuities. For a more indulgent evening experience, the average bill would be around $85 to $90 per person.
Pera Mediterranean Brasserie boasts a dedicated team that varies in size depending on the season, with approximately 70 to 75 employees during the winter months. Among them, 20% to 25% are Turkish nationals, adding an authentic touch to the restaurant's ambiance. With its exquisite dishes, warm ambiance, and a team dedicated to ensuring guest satisfaction, Pera Mediterranean Brasserie continues to leave an unforgettable impression on the New York City dining scene, reaffirming its position as a destination where gastronomy becomes an enchanting journey. Photos by Koray Kasap
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