Traditional Turkish simit, a pastry with sesame seeds on it, used to be sold by street vendors in earlier decades. It became widespread thanks to the opening of simit houses and simit cafés in the 2000s. And now it is setting sail for Europe
ISTANBUL - Referans
Once upon a time, the traditional Turkish simit – a ring-shaped pastry product covered in sesame seeds – used to be a favorite food on quotidian five o'clock tea tables, for which neighbors used to gather in the old quarters of Istanbul.
It used to be made in traditional bakeries and sold by street vendors. The 2000s were the beginning of a modern era for the simit. It has become a widespread breakfast and lunch choice for Turkish students and lower income groups with the opening of numerous simit houses and simit cafés in Istanbul and other big cities. Often called “Simit Sarayı” or “Simit Dünyası,” which can be roughly translated into English as “simit palace” or “simit world” respectively, these simit cafés are places where mass production and mass consumption of simit take place.
The growth in the simit market still continues. In addition to their branches in many parts of Turkey, owners of simit cafés are now getting ready to open branches in Europe, too.
Meanwhile, two Turkish investors, Atakan Özbek and his uncle Ünal Özbek, have just introduced to Turkish consumers the famous “pretzel,” a baked pastry that is traditionally twisted into a unique knot-like shape and widely consumed in Europe and the United States. Opening their first pretzel café under the brand name Pretzebella in the Cevahir Shopping Center in Istanbul two months ago, the uncle and his nephew seem highly committed to making pretzels a popular pastry in Turkey.
100,000 simits per day
Simit Sarayı, which opened its first branch in 2002, today owns a total of 20 branches and 40 franchised branches all around Turkey. Formerly, the company used to bake and sell the simits at its branches, but then, as its growth gathered speed, it established a factory in Istanbul's Kartal district and began mass production there. Building the factory cost the company $10 million. The factory currently produces 100,000 simits daily and distributes them to its branches. After being distributed to the branches, the simits are baked there in the early morning hours.
“We grew so rapidly that we needed to establish our own factory. But we had difficulties simply because no simit factories or simit producing machines used to exist in Turkey at that time,” said Aykut Okutur, assistant manager of Simit Sarayı. “So we had the machines specially produced for us. That took four years. In fact, we have reached a certain standard in simit production since the date that our factory, which was established in a 7,000-square meter indoor area, began to operate,” he added, pointing to the increased quality of the simits at Simit Sarayı in the last few years.
Simit Sarayı, which sells about 100 types of simits, has attracted the attention not only of consumers, but also of a considerable number of investors. Okutur said they have already started giving franchises.
“At first, our goal was to have 10 or 15 franchised branches. But given the consumers' increasing interest in our products, we shall continue to open branches until their number exceeds those of the McDonald's in Turkey,” he added. Simit Sarayı, which opens a branch within 15 days, has also launched a campaign for those who want to get franchises from the company. “We will not be charging them royalty rights until the end of 2008,” said Okutur.
Simit Sarayı, Turkey's one and only corporate simit producer, has also taken action to set sail for foreign markets. Okutur, who noted that they have already started establishing contacts in Europe to give master franchises there, referred to Belgium, Germany, France and Greece as their priority target markets.
First organic simit on the way
Cited by gourmets as one of the best simit bakeries in Istanbul, Yücel Simit, located in the upper middle class neighborhood of Levent, is also trying to strengthen its position in the Turkish simit market through introducing some novelties.
“I, as a traditional simit bakery owner, have learned the simit trade from my father, since it is a hereditary job. Or at least it used to be once upon a time. In the 1990s, we started to produce for street vendors. Given the spread of simit cafés in Istanbul and in other big cities in the 2000s, we, too, opened our first branch in café format in 2003,” said Yücel and added that people's interest in traditional simit has increased thanks to the emergence of the concept of simit cafés.
According to Yücel, the opening of simit cafés has had no negative effects on the sales of street vendors but has paved the way for the expansion of the domestic simit market, since daily simit production has increased from 15,000 units to 30,000 units recently.
Yücel argued that there is still need for more simit cafés in Turkey. “As income levels continue to remain low, the simit market will continue to exist in Turkey,” he said and added that Yücel Simit, which currently owns seven branches, will also continue to grow in the Turkish simit market by introducing some novelties such as organic simit.
“We will start producing the first organic simit of Turkey within a year at the latest. Given the recent tendency among people toward organic food, we will start producing organic flour, sesame, fermented pectin, which are the ingredients used in simit making,” said Yücel, who made the following final remark on simit consumption levels in Istanbul: “The highest number of simit in Istanbul is sold in the area between the Zincirlikuyu neighborhood and Akmerkez.”
McDonald's launches breakfast service with simit
Seen by simit cafés as a rival, McDonald's has recently launched breakfast services including simit. Many argue that this is an indication of the fact that McDonald's also perceives the simit cafés as rivals to itself.
Turkey general manager of McDonald's, Sadi Fansa, said at a press conference, at which the latest novelty by McDonald's was announced to the public, that the breakfast services have been launched in 36 McDonald's branches all around Turkey and that the number will reach 53 in October. Breakfast services have actually been provided for some time in McDonald's restaurants in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and some Latin American countries. After Kuwait, Turkey will be the second country in the Middle East where McDonald's restaurants have launched breakfast services, according to information provided by Fansa, who also pointed out that McDonald's recorded a total turnover of $150 million in Turkey in 2007. The expected share of breakfast services in general sales will be 3 percent in the first step, he added.
Uncle and nephew to introduce Pretzebella to Turkey
GÜLFEM VARLIK- Istanbul
Atakan Özbek, a graduate of Middle East Technical University, and his uncle Ünal Özbek, who worked as a supermarket manager in the United States for 15 years, are two names who have introduced to Turkish consumers one of the most commonly consumed fast food products in Europe and the United States, the pretzel. Ünal and his nephew Atakan, who have made some changes to the flavor of the pretzel in order to make it more suitable to the Turkish taste, opened Turkey's first pretzel café at the Cevahir Shopping Center in Istanbul two months ago. They named their brand Pretzebella.
The idea of moving pretzel to Turkey first came to Ünal's mind in the United States when he decided together with his nephew Atakan, who was also a master's student in that country, to work in the food sector. Ünal then left his job at the supermarket and began to work at a very famous pretzel chain to learn the job.
When they came to Turkey, they had a capital of YTL 150,000, and with it, they established their pretzel factory called the Gourmet Factory, which currently produces pretzels for Pretzebella. Ünal said despite it having been only a short time since they first introduced the pretzel to the Turkish market, their daily sales have reached about 200 items, and added that their main goal is to open more branches and make pretzel a popular food in Turkey.
At Pretzebella, the price of a pretzel ranges between YTL 1.5 and YTL 3.5. Its menu is a rich one, including 18 different types of pretzels, from ones with sea salt flavor to those with castor sugar. Five different sauces, aroma teas and special sweets are accompanying flavors to the pretzels.
Ünal explained the reason why they made some changes to the flavor of U.S. pretzels when they introduced them to the Turkish pastry market as follows: “A typical pretzel is made with stuff like margarine and corn syrup. That's why we do not think that Turks would love the taste of a U.S. or German pretzel. So, we have made some changes to its taste. Normally, there are seven or eight different types of pretzels in the United States. Here in Turkey, we produce 18 different types of pretzels with flavors that are appropriate for the Turkish taste. We use sea salt and a special olive oil in them.”
Goal is to grow through franchising
Ünal said, rather than buying a franchise from one of the best-known pretzel chains in the United States, they chose the difficult path and tried to create their own brand. He said they also applied to the Turkish Standards Institution (TSE) for trademark registration. “We would like to grow both through the franchising model and wholesaling of our products. We might also open branches in Turkey through forming a joint partnership with a company,” he said and added that they have been receiving a considerable number of franchising offers.
Annual turnover of US pretzel chain $300 millionA pretzel is a baked good that is traditionally twisted into a unique knot-like shape. Most sources credit its invention in 610 A.D. to a monk, who twisted leftover bread dough into crossed praying arms – the three holes representing the Trinity – to be given as a reward to children who had learned their prayers. Some time later, it became a widespread pastry in Germany and Austria, and later, in the United States, which is presently one of the countries where its level of consumption is the highest. The $300-million annual turnover of the U.S. pretzel chain Auntie Anne's is a clear indication of this fact.