ORMOND BEACH — Foodies and others who have longed for a Turkish Restaurant in the area now have just such a place to enjoy.
After opening for business on July 20, Istanbul Turkish Mediterranean Cuisine has been slowly attracting customers to the restaurant at 488 S Yonge St. in Ormond Beach. The restaurant’s owners are planning a grand opening later this month.
Owners Wesley and Ayten Hooper, have been married for 23 years and have lived in several countries throughout that time.
Ayten Hooper is a native of Turkey. Her husband, Wesley, served in the U.S. military for 20 years, during which time he and his wife ran other smaller food businesses.
“We have done other little ventures here and there,” Wesley Hooper said. “We’d open panini stands, smoothies stands, other restaurants. We got a lot of experience that way.”
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The Hoopers also owned two restaurants when they lived in Nebraska. After selling their businesses there, they moved to Ormond Beach four years ago.
“Nicer weather,” said Wesley Hooper, who grew up in Holly Hill before moving out of state after high school.
“I’ve always had fond memories of this place,” he said. “I wanted to come back and that’s why we returned to this spot.”
After a period of time working full-time jobs outside the restaurant business in Ormond Beach, Wesley Hooper said the couple started to miss their restaurant days and decided to open their new restaurant.
“We looked at each other and said ‘What are we doing? Why don’t we get just one little restaurant and make it our home?’” he said.
Ayten’s passion for cooking was one of the main reasons for their decision to open Istanbul Turkish Cuisine.
“We kept [the menu] very traditional,” she said.
The menu offers a variety of traditional Mediterranean dishes. Appetizers include ‘Baba Ganosh’ and ‘Falafel’, and entrée options include a number of meat kebabs (lamb, chicken, beef), all of which are accompanied by pita bread, cabbage, onion salad and a choice of rice or bulgur pilaf.
“Everything is made in house,” Ayten Hooper said. “In the beginning, introducing people [to new foods] is hard, but Americans are open to try everything. They (diners) were impressed, so it’s easier after that.”
The combination of grains, meats, and vegetarian options in Mediterranean cuisine is “what makes it unique,” Wesley Hooper said. “The Mediterranean cuisine is more balanced, and it’s got more mild flavors. It’s not as strong as Indian flavors, for example, and it’s not as bland as some European flavors. It’s somewhere in between those two.”
Ormond Beach resident Jordan Williams said she “couldn’t wait” to visit Istanbul Turkish Cuisine, having worked in a Turkish restaurant back in her home state of Georgia.
“We ordered ‘Sigara Boregi’ for an appetizer, which are phyllo dough rolls stuffed with cheese and herbs. They were impeccable,” Williams said.
She also ordered a “juicy, tender, and charred just right” chicken kebab, as well as a “phenomenal” Beyti (beef and lamb) Kebab.
“We had Baklava for dessert, and it was delicious,” Williams said. “I will absolutely be returning in the future.”
Wesley said there has been a “great” response from the community so far.
“We have had big support from Middle Eastern people who go to Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical University], and a lot of Turkish people that we didn’t even know were around the area and have found us. They love it.”
Laurie Bulus and her Turkish husband, Recep, have been in Palm Coast since 2016 “searching for a Turkish restaurant ever since.”
“Everything was delicious and authentic,” Bulus said. “What we really liked most was the fact it was a family business and they had true Turkish hospitality.”
The Hoopers are planning a grand opening planned for mid-August. In fact, they were hoping not to see too many customers in the weeks prior the grand opening so as to give them time to get the place fully in order.
“Some people had been looking for it, so they came in, but it wasn’t overwhelming, which is exactly what we wanted to start,” Wesley Hooper said.
Last week, they shut down for two days to “reorder” their kitchen in order to provide a more efficient service, Wesley said. The Hoopers are also waiting for their daughter to arrive in town to help with the business.
After considering a few spots around town and business concepts, the couple decided that running a sit-down restaurant would be the best option for their location on Yonge Street, which had been the location for other restaurants in the past.
“This is a busy road,” he said. “We figured that a sit-down restaurant would probably do better in this neighborhood. We thought it was a good concept to continue with — people are used to that.”
Wesley said some customers have been unsure of the menu when they first visit, but after tasting the food they promise to go back for another visit.
“Some customers have come in four or five days since we have been open,” he said. “We have very good support in this area.”
Having already added new items to the menu after customers’ suggestions, the Hoopers have plans to make their new place even better in the future, such as having an outside sitting area and a special catering menu.
“This is where we want to stay,” he said. “We want to be here — not moving anymore.”
Ormond Turkish restaurant hours
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Istanbul Turkish Mediterranean Cuisine
WHERE: 488 S Yonge St., Ormond Beach
HOURS: Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
INFO: (386) 492-7100, Pickup or Delivery at https://www.istanbulflorida.com