When Mama was of marrying age, her father began telling Ismail (her now husband), “Why can’t you open a restaurant for her?” When they married thirty-four years ago her father said, “I know you are going to take my daughter away to America, but please promise me you will open a restaurant for her.” Ismail said, “Ok,” afraid that if he didn’t, her dad would be “up his collar.” Ismail was also clearly aware of his wife’s special culinary talent. As he put it, “Anything she cooks turns good. She has the genes of her dad.”
For many years, Mama worked at the Angus Barn as the sous chef, while Ismail was busy with his own business. The couple was open to the idea of having their own restaurant, but it was never quite right, until a few years ago when they found this spot on Hillsborough St. Bergama Restaurant opened for business one year ago. Finally, Mama had fulfilled her destiny. Sadly, her father was not alive to see it.
Since the beginning, Bergama Restaurant has had an enthusiastic following with many regulars as well as new customers. Mama said she gets her energy when she is busy, and her joy is in seeing her customers “shining eyes and smiling faces.” She loves the feeling that her customers trust her. As she puts it, “I am not just feeding them. I am taking care of them.”
I asked Mama what her favorite thing is on the menu. Not surprisingly, she answered, “Anything I touch, that’s my favorite. If I don’t like it, I won’t sell it.” Ismail agreed. Everything is simple, natural home cooking. Originally they started with 10% Turkish food and 90% steaks and seafood. However, Mama and Ismail have reversed that due to customers enthusiastic response to authentic, delicious, Turkish cuisine.
After spending some time with Mama and Ismail, I reflected on the possibility that Joe and I could own a restaurant together someday. They noted that owning a restaurant is a 24/7 day job. In fact, there is an army bed in the back so they can take turns getting some rest. Sounds challenging to me! But, I noticed their love and strong connection to each other, and wanted to know what makes their relationship work, in the kitchen and beyond. Mama mentioned that “honesty is everything.” Her husband told me that you have to give to receive, and you can’t say, “My way, my way only. That does not work.” Hey, husband, Chef Joe? If you read this, please take note of this important relationship advice…
As you can probably see, you basically fall in love with Mama and her husband. As Ismail put it, “We want our customers to feel like this is their home away from home. Clearly, everything at Bergama Restaurant is served with love.
3520 Hillsborough Rd.