Cuma Anil Kepez tells his story
Words by Rasa Jusionyte | Photography by Šárka Babická
The lazy or the very hungry never make it to Cirrik 19 Numara Bos. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Dalston Kingsland station, yet Stoke Newington High Street is so densely populated with Turkish restaurants, the lure of grilled meat can become to strong. Cirrik looks rather humble but thanks to discerning regulars it’s hard to get a table after 6pm. We sat down for lunch with Cuma Anil Kepez, the son of Ali Kapez, the founder of Cirrik, to chat about running a family restaurant.
When did you open Cirrik?
We started in 2005 and almost immediately launched restaurants all around North and East London. My dad tried really hard to grow the business, but after a few years we realised we were not making enough money. Big restaurants started expanding to our areas and the owners offered cheaper food. We simply couldn’t compete with them. My dad grew up in Turkey and was a farmer for most of his adult life, so he really cares about the quality of meat. We also use a lot of herbs in our recipes, which we import from Turkey. These are all extra costs, but they contribute to the taste and quality. When we had to choose what we wanted our restaurants to become, we decided we no longer wanted to go down the franchise route.
Has anything changed since the day you opened?
No, not at all. It’s all the same, the restaurant just looks older. The interior design really bugs me and as I’m getting more involved in my dad’s business, I’m planning to refurbish. One of our regular customers is a designer and he’s already made us a new logo. Another is making a video for social media. My next step is to create a new look and make it feel a little trendier so we can compete with all the new places opening up. Sometimes, if I’m not sure what the right decision is, I ask our regulars. A few years ago we wanted to move the big grill parallel to the wall so it was right next to the door, but the customers told me they love watching my dad cook and they would stop coming if I did!
How did your dad get involved in the hospitality business?
The previous owner of this restaurant also had an off licence down the road. My dad couldn’t speak English at the time, but the guy gave him a job as a store manager as most of the customers were Turkish anyway. After a while the owner decided to sell the restaurant and my dad jumped at the opportunity. To be honest, he couldn’t even cook, so originally his plan was to open a coffee shop. At the beginning he simply used to sit at the table next to the grill and watch the chef.
What were the first weeks like?
The chef really disliked my dad. The most important thing in our cuisine is the marination and he was supposed to teach dad how to do it. Yet every day when my dad showed up at the agreed time, the chef would have done it already. It went on for a while, until my dad decided to trick him into coming later – like asking him to buy a specific ingredient on the other side of the neighbourhood, even if it was sold at the shop next door. Dad started experimenting with his own marinades until the head chef told him he was doing a better job and should therefore run the kitchen.
How does it feel to work with your parents?
It’s a lot of pressure. And you can’t argue back!
Do you have childhood memories from the restaurant?
I was 12 when I started working here after school. I was either helping the waitresses, washing the dishes or polishing the cutlery. When I was a bit older, my dad asked me to help at the restaurant instead of going on summer holidays. I wasn’t very happy about it, but you can’t say no to your dad, so I took up the challenge. We had a new restaurant opening and he wanted me to manage it. I was 15 and everyone else was at least 30. It didn’t go very well. The staff thought I was too young to tell them what to do and I had no idea how to manage people. The chef ended up training me and by the end of the summer I had my own knife. I discovered that, like my dad, I really love the cooking side of the business. You get people coming up to you and saying how much they enjoyed the food. It feels good.
Tell us about your regulars.
My dad knows all the regulars. He doesn't let them choose from the menu – he decides what they should have and cooks it himself.
Is the food Turkish or Kurdish?
A lot of Turkish people living in London are actually from South Turkey. So the food known to Londoners as Turkish, is actually food from the South. However, a lot of Kurdish people live in that region, so it’s a bit like that question about the chicken and the egg.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
Lamb Beyti with yoghurt, also known as ET Beyti. We’re famous for it.
What do you love about running the restaurant?
When David Bradley [best known for playing Argus Filch in the Harry Potter film series] walks through the door, it’s cool to have a chat.
What’s not so good?
It’s a huge commitment, nothing like a 9 to 5 job. If you need to leave to run an errand, you can’t simply go. It’s the same with holidays and family celebrations. To celebrate Christmas, we invite our friends and family to the restaurant – that’s the only way we can spend time with them.
Cirrik 19 Numara Bos
34 Stoke Newington Road