The economic crisis may be biting Greece, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s investors from turning their eyes east to opportunities in Istanbul, with business leaders opening boutique cafes and restaurants in the city.
Many of the investors are Greeks with familial roots in Anatolia, and said they did not encounter any particular difficulties when opening businesses in Istanbul.
“If I speak sincerely, when compared to Greece, everything is so organized in Turkey. I have never faced any problems,” Rena Lialiou, who owns the café Kalimera Cihangir together with Pinelopi Zacherakou, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News. The café, which opened a year ago, was the first such Greek boutique café to open in the city.
Lialiou said she had roots in Istanbul and İzmir on her mother’s side. “More than 13 years ago, I came to this city for the first time, and I fell in love with it.”
Lialiou also said tradespeople in her neighborhood had been particularly helpful. “I never feel that I am outside of my country, but feel like I’m at home myself. My only problem is the language, but I am trying to cope with it,” she said.
“It is not just a café, but also a house where we come together to enjoy Greek cuisine while also learning Greek and Turkish,” she added, describing Kalimera Cihangir as “home.”
Dimitris Pantonis is a businessman who came to Istanbul to open a restaurant in the prestigious Bosphorus neighborhood of Bebek just 15 days ago. “My experience in Athens will show me the way; Istanbul and Athens have many similarities as cities,” he said following the opening of his new location, Crete Restaurant.
“We took our risk and decided to come, and we haven’t regretted it since,” Pantonis said when asked why he had chosen Istanbul. “We are enjoying our new beginning and the beauties of Istanbul.” Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, are enjoying impressive economic growth, in contrast to the current situation in Greece, he added, saying that he was planning to stay in Istanbul for a number of years.
Athens in Cihangir
Another new Greek restaurant-café, called Athina, was opened on Dec. 6 in the central Istanbul neighborhood of Cihangir. “Me and my husband’s biggest dream was to open restaurants like this in Istanbul, and our dream has become reality,” said Athina’s owner, Georgia Kotsari.
“Here in Istanbul, yes, you have lots of Greek restaurants, but they only have Greeknames – that’s all. We brought real Greek cuisine with us here,” Kotsari said.
She also added that they had encountered no legal problems in opening the restaurant, but noted the difficulty in buying a dwelling. “We would like to buy a house here, but because we are Greek citizens, we have difficulties … so we rented a house,” she said.
Like Lialiou, Kotsari said local tradespeople in her neighborhood had been of great help. “Yes, our countries sometimes have political problems, but as a society we have no problem; besides, our cultures have many similarities,” she said.
Kotsari said her roots came from Turkey’s Black Sea region. “My surname is Kotsari, which comes from a traditional Black Sea dance. Here, I feel at home and safe,” she said.