Former mortgage broker trades his food truck for a Turkish restaurant in Greensboro – Winston-Salem Journal

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A lot of Mediterranean restaurants have sprouted up in Greensboro, but not many are giving a Turkish twist to the genre.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Kofte platter from Zeeyum Kitchen.

One that is serving Turkish food is Zeeyum Kitchen, which Ziya Ozan started as a food truck, serving his first meal to customers in February 2022. Ozan upped his game a few months ago when the folks at City Kitch – the shared-use commercial kitchen he used as his food-truck commissary – offered him the chance to open a dining room in an unused part of the building at 601 Milner Drive.

Now Ozan, a native of Turkey, has found himself running a small but increasingly popular sit-down restaurant that serves lunch and dinner three days a week.

Ozan had worked as a mortgage broker for several decades when, in his 50s, he decided to start doing what he loved. “Cooking has been my passion for as long as I can remember, he said, “however I didn’t have the guts to do it.”

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Once he got his four daughters off to college and all the financial arrangements settled, he said, he felt better about pursuing his dream.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Some of the Ottoman breakfast from Zeeyum Kitchen.

“(Cooking) was always on my mind, but I didn’t want to gamble. I wanted to make sure I could support the family,” he said.

He was encouraged during COVID-19 when he was cooking at home a lot and often feeding his neighbors. “They would be walking their dog by my house, and I would whistle and say, ‘Hey, I have something for you to try.’ And people would say, ‘You should open a restaurant.’”

Zeeyum Kitchen

Zeeyum Kitchen owner Ziya Ozan in the restaurant located in City Kitch in Greensboro.

He said he named his truck and now restaurant Zeeyum because if you put an “m”at the end of Ziya in Turkish it’s like saying ‘my Ziya,’ and that reminds him of what his grandmother in Turkey used to call him.

Ozan left Turkey as a young man in 1991, coming to Boston with hopes of playing college basketball. “I’m 6 feet, but I found out I was too short,” he said with a laugh.

He stayed in Boston, enrolling for a short time in a hotel management course. He said he learned English by avoiding fellow Turks and hanging out with Americans. “And I watched a lot of David Letterman,” he said.

Eventually, he got married and moved to North Carolina in 1995 to be near his wife’s parents. “Three ex-wives and four daughters later, I created Zeeyum Kitchen,” he said.

Ozan calls Zeeyum Kitchen a Mediterranean restaurant – not Turkish – but his menu is pretty much Turkish, allowing that countries around the Mediterranean share a lot of culinary heritage.

He will proudly tell anyone who asks that his food is authentic, that he makes his bread and many other the foods from scratch and he even imports such Turkish ingredients as sucuk, a type of sausage.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Zeeyum Kitchen owner Ziya Ozan serves Kunefe in his restaurant.

Customers not only won’t find anything American on the menu, such as fries or chicken tenders, but they also won’t even find many of the common items on other Mediterranean menus.

Zeeyum doesn’t serve hummus, tabbouleh, kabobs, baba ghanoush, shwarma or even pita bread.

Instead, he serves lesser-known, Turkish items such as pide, borek, lahmacun and menemen.

(Some of these dishes are also on the menu at Kapadokia Grill at 5814 W. Gate City Blvd., mixed in with the other Mediterranean dishes.)

Zeeyum Kitchen

Lahmacum from Zeeyum Kitchen.

Though Zeeyum doesn’t open till 11 a.m., it serves Turkish breakfast all day. This includes a platter of sucuk with eggs ($14), fresh baked pide (Turkish flatbread) or a simit (Turkish bagel). The bagel can be ordered separately with such add-ons as feta, olives, clotted cream or honey.

Menemen ($12) is a Turkish dish of scrambled eggs cooked with tomato and green peppers.

The Ottoman breakfast ($26), designed to serve two, includes feta, kashkaval and tulum cheeses, three kinds of jam, honey with clotted cream, olives, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and pide or simit.

All the breakfasts come with Turkish-style hot tea.

Ozan said that on the lunch/dinner menu, the kofte platter ($19.95) is one of his best-sellers. The platter consists of meatballs cooked with tomato and onions, Turkish rice with orzo and chickpeas, spinach salad with feta, and freshly baked pide.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Kunefe from Zeeyum Kitchen.

The pide – Turkish flatbread—also is sold on its own, topped with mozzarella, Provolone and Jack cheese for $9.50, with sucuk or other additional toppings for $2 each.

Borek is sold as an appetizer for $7.50. It consists of three cigar-shaped phyllo rolls stuffed with feta and parsley (sort of a Turkish version of spanakopita). You also can ask for it with ground beef added for $9.

Ozan makes baklava Turkish style, with pistachios instead of walnuts. His version is also lighter than the Greek style; it lacks any kind of heavy honey syrup.

He also likes to make kunefe, a dessert of shredded phyllo with cheese, cooked to order and served hot right out of the oven.

Ozan is self-taught, and he clearly enjoys what’s he doing. “I’m not a chef. I’m not even a line cook. I just cook with love,” he said.

And if there’s anything he loves as much as cooking, it’s making his customers feel welcome, introducing them to new foods and sharing his culture.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Zeeyum Kitchen owner Ziya Ozan prepares tea in his restaurant.

The other day, Nathalie Gonzalez-Arvelo, an old friend, came in, bringing two friends – and new customers—with her. Ozan helped them order, joked with them, and even gave a friendly nudge to Gonzalez-Arvelo to try something other than her usual favorite dish.

“He loves to talk to people, and his food is so good,” she said. “My mother is a great cook, and this is the only place she will let me take her out to eat.”

Food truck owners Gary Rello and David Romero of Taco Bros. – who use City Kitch as their commissary – stopped in for lunch the same day. “We don’t like his food. We love his food,” Rello said with a laugh.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Pide from Zeeyum Kitchen.

Rello noted that Ozan seems much happier now that he has a dining room instead of just a truck because he enjoys the hospitality and spending time with his customers.

“When I want to treat my staff, I bring them here,” Rello said, “because he treats everyone like family.”

Zeeyum Kitchen

Feta Borek from Zeeyum Kitchen.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Turkish tea at Zeeyum Kitchen.

Zeeyum Kitchen

Turkish tea service at Zeeyum Kitchen.

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