Birtan Erkut is determined to give his customers an authentic Turkish experience. Russell Quinn reports.
FAMILY-RUN businesses have long been considered the backbone of Australia’s economy, and it’s commonplace for immediate and extended family members to help establish a new business.
It’s a little less often you’ll find tradition so closely held than at Alaturka Cuisine, which features a 300-year-old family recipe as one of its signature dishes.
Alaturka Cuisine owner Birtan Erkut proudly utilises the services of the two main women in his life – his Turkish mother and his wife – in the kitchen to produce what he says are “absolutely authentic” flavours.
“We’ve got some unique pastas my mum makes; she made me work at the age of seven so I’m making her work at the age of 67,” Mr Erkut says.
“She prepares a lot of dishes that only she can make: we’re talking 200-300 year old recipes that only she knows that were taught to her by her parents.”
Mr Erkut even jokingly suggests his eight-year-old son may follow in his footsteps and soon help promote Alaturka’s Hay Street position in Subiaco.
“He starts next year, if he wants to buy a computer for himself he’s got to work for it,” he says, referring to his own start in the industry, where he delivered soup to his father’s diner [from home] as a seven-year-old via Sydney’s vast train networks.
“I didn’t think at the age of seven I’d still be doing it at 42 but I guess I was destined to do it.”
Mr Erkut, who has spent 30 years working in the nation’s hospitality sector, opened Alaturka about five months ago at the same location as his previous Korean barbeque restaurant, Arirang.
Despite Arirang’s popularity, generating more than $1.2 million in turnover each year, Mr Erkut says he felt the novelty of grilling your own food at the individual barbeques was wearing thin in an ever-evolving Subiaco.
“It was still good but I could feel it was getting close to its use-by date,” he says.
Mr Erkut and his high school friend, Young Yu, co-owned Arirang in Subiaco (Mr Yu remains sole owner of Arirang in the CBD) for five years from 2004 after Mr Erkut returned from a stint consulting to Hong Kong restaurants.
This experience had followed a decade at various Perth eateries and numerous hotel management and marketing positions in his native Turkey (before he returned to Perth in the early 1990s).
The friends spent $500,000 getting Arirang started in Subiaco, which was then managed by Mr Erkut amid his planning for what would become Alaturka (pronounced ‘Ala-toor-ka’, derived from a 14th century Ottoman dialect meaning ‘traditional Turkish’, or ‘‘old school’’, as Mr Erkut puts it).
Mr Erkut says the pair parted amicably last year, settling for an undisclosed sum, Mr Yu citing his preference for Korean cuisine, while Mr Erkut, who had been pressed by his clients to open a Turkish restaurant for the past 20 years, invested a further $500,000 fitting out the eatery in traditional Turkish wares, such as specially designed lighting fixtures and imported curtains.
He says educating customers about real Turkish cuisine has been the greatest challenge, although the addition of a functions and events arm to the business has further increased expectations and the workload.
And the word has spread, with Alaturka expecting a special international guest this month.
“With ANZAC day coming up soon we are delighted to be hosting a dinner for the mayor of Gallipoli at Alaturka Cuisine, it should be a great night,” he says.