Getting the Taste of Baklava Just Right

Mehmet Alkurt in front of his pastry shop in Brooklyn (Photo by Orhan Akkurt for Voices of NY)

Mehmet Alkurt in front of his pastry shop in Brooklyn (Photo by Orhan Akkurt for Voices of NY)

Everyone who has been to Turkey or is familiar with Turkey knows about baklava.  Baklava is a famous Turkish sweet dessert and is made differently in different regions. In the southeast they use pistachios, in the black sea region they use local nuts in the Aegean area they use almonds, and in Thrace region they use sesame seeds. One of the most famous areas in Turkey for baklava is Gaziantep (also called Antep), a city in southeastern Turkey.

Mehmet Alkurt, 34, a businessman from Gaziantep, has been offering “Antep Baklava” in America for the past two years.  Americans who have traveled to Turkey, as well as many other people, have heard of this famous baklava. Alkurt decided to take advantage of this interest and started to make “Antep Baklava” in New York City in 2014. In a brief time, he has succeeded in attracting business nationwide and now wants to expand his business.

Ethnic Eats-04Alkurt first came to New York City as a student in 2006 to study English. Even as a student he had a goal to begin a business here. First, he started selling different products – everything from cellphone cases to pillows in the Manhattan Mall at Herald Square. Then he started importing pistachios from Turkey to some markets in New York and New Jersey. Next, he worked as a nutrition analyst. Finally, after working in the food sector and making some trial investments, the young entrepreneur decided in 2014 to bring “Antep baklava” an indispensable sweet of the Middle East and Turkey, to America  – by making it here. He had noticed, he said that “there is no tasty baklava here.”

With some financial support from his family, Alkurt started his business. He imported all the required ingredients – including flour, pistachios, and even butter – from Turkey, and also brought an expert pastry chef from Turkey so as to not to change the taste of the baklava. The pastry is very thin filo dough, filled with pistachios or walnuts and drizzled with a special syrup that brings out the particular quality of this baklava.

After bringing the ingredients from Turkey, Alkurt found a baklava chef to start making the baklava in Paterson, NJ. He distributed baklava from Paterson to nearby markets.

The baklava chef, Alkurt said, has to be very good. He said finding the right chef was not difficult, because being from Antep, he had many contacts there. But in the beginning, even with an expert pastry chef and ingredients imported from Gaziantep, getting the taste just right was a challenge. Eventually, though it all  worked out.

“If you control the taste, people like it very much,” says Alkurt.

The baklava attracted attention, and soon thereafter, Alkurt decided to make baklava in Brooklyn, NY. Then he opened a cafe named “Antepli Baklava” on Fifth Ave. in Brooklyn, where he sells baklava and other products, including burma kadayif (a sweet made with shredded crunchy pastry filled with nuts). Alkurt pointed out that Arab-Americans took a special interest in the baklava and said, “We have permanent customers now, they come and buy baklava almost everyday. Americans like the taste of our baklava too and we try to tell them about Turkish culture and customs.”

Now Alkurt focuses on providing the best service to his customers.

Alkurt ships “Antep Baklava” desserts – which retail from $9.99 to $14.99 a pound on the website –  to different parts of the U.S., such as Florida and Texas, and is aiming to increase sales in New York and New Jersey over the next few months. He says they are trying to enter big shopping malls of U.S. but they don’t know when they will be able to do this, adding: “We cannot be a big company right now because we want to serve quality products that are very delicious.” Still, he said, he believes that eventually “Antep Baklava” will be franchised.

Sales, the entrepreneur said, have grown more than 90 percent over the past year.

“I am planning to open a store in Paterson and one in Manhattan soon. I believe if you bring good taste to consumer, they will not forget you and will support you. I am taking offers from businessmen and assessing these offers and I hope to be able to increase the number of stores soon.”

Orhan Akkurt is a reporter for Zaman AmerikaThis article was written as part of the Business Reporting Fellowship of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and funded by a grant from News Corp. 

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