Sultanahmet Koftecisi Seeks to Taste US market

Image Not long after a branch of Turkish cafe chain Simit Sarayı opened in New York City, a historic and famous köfte (a traditional meat dish) seller, Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta, has attempted to commence operations in the US, suggesting that growing foreign demand for Turkish food products has attracted local Turkish companies in recent years.

With its 95 years of experience in food industry in Turkey, Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta is now expanding to the US market with a single store in Manhattan, and its third-generation owner pledges to supply frozen köfte to supermarkets and become a distinctive brand in the United S. The firm's decision to invest in the US came on the heels of the recent expansion of a company selling street food favorites, Simit Sarayı, in the same market. The company is on its way to becoming a global brand.

Selling simit, a traditional sesame-seed encrusted bread ring, on street corners throughout the country, Simit Sarayı opened a branch in New York City in mid-November of last year, extending its presence into the US. Now, Simit Sarayı is operating in 14 countries, with 315 branches -- including those in Turkey -- as of January. While announcing the decision to expand to the US, the chairman of Simit Sarayı said, “ Firms that do not have a branch on Fifth Avenue are not considered global companies,” underlining that the company sees the US market as a way to become a world-known food chain.

In the midst of promotion campaigns for the New York branch of Simit Sarayı, however, Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta also announced its expansion to the US, suggesting a trend that growing demand for Turkish food products is pushing Turkish firms to invest there.

Giving an exclusive interview to Sunday's Zaman on Tuesday at the restaurant's main branch, in İstanbul's Sultanahmet, Mehmet Tezçakın, the current owner and grandson of the founder of Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta, said they decided to launch operations in the US upon persistent demands from American tourists who had been to İstanbul and tasted the restaurant's classic köfte.

Nevertheless, Sultanahmet Köftecisi's decision raises concerns over whether it may face strong competition due to the fact that world's fast food kings, including McDonald's and Burger King, were born in the US, and that they both have a repeat customer base because of specific consumption characteristics mostly focused on fast food culture. However, Tezçakın argues that they all serve to suppress hunger; Sultanahmet Köftecisi is committed to sustain a certain taste level as well as to satisfy nutrition needs. Highlighting that he will differentiate Sultanahmet Köftecisi with flavored köfte at affordable prices, Tezçakın said they do not expect any competition.

Tezçakın based his argument on the grounds that in New York City high-quality serving restaurants demand high prices, unlike Sultanahmet Kötecisi, and many Americans already know about köfte. Defining New York as a “grand shopping mall where there is always a market activity,” Tezçakın noted that they will never suffer from low demand.

However, Tezçakın maintained, his chain suffers because of shopping malls in Turkey, where rent for a storefront is often disproportionally high. Renting a storefront in New York City is more affordable than in İstanbul, considering the distance in purchasing power between the two metropolises.

When asked about the concept for the Manhattan branch, Tezçakın said they will address the tastes of the American consumer with certain sauces, yet offer classic meals that have become the characteristics of Sultanahmet Köftecisi throughout the years. Though studies on it are ongoing, the name of Manhattan branch is likely to be different from Sultanahmet Köftecisi in Turkey -- it might be Köf Köf Burger, Tezçakın said.

The chairman pointed out that Sultanahmet Köftecisi will not confine itself to street stores; it will also serve customers by way of food carts in certain parts of Manhattan where dozens of mobile sandwich sellers attract people who count every minute amid the rush of the business world.

Promising a warm welcome to the Manhattan branch six or seven months from now, Tezçakın said that if everything goes well, another store will soon open -- this time, in Boston.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07