Recipe For Success

by Laura Kirkpatrick

For Sakura Takano, working as a consultant for the steakhouse Dukkan was not her first experience with a restaurant entrepreneur.  It was, however, the first time she’d worked with a restaurant entrepreneur in Istanbul, Turkey.  While pursuing a banking career in New York and California, Takano had helped friends launch Kyotofu New York, a dessert café in New York City’s  trendy Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.   This sweet launch was partly what inspired Takano’s decision to attend business school.

“After my experience with Kyotofu, I knew I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur, right away, but also that I loved the vibe and the challenge to stay flexible and adaptable” says Takano of her decision to go to business school rather than to keep climbing the finance corporate ladder.

In the summer of 2008, that direction was west by southwest as Takano traveled from New York City to Istanbul as a Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship, a grant gifted through Columbia’s Graduate School of Business, to work for Endeavor,  a nonprofit which supports high impact entrepreneurs in emerging economies.  Capitalizing on Takano’s past start-up experience, her interest in food and an appreciation for travel, Endeavor placed her with Emre Mermer and Defne Koryürek, the founders of the first steakhouse in Turkey, located in Istanbul. 

Dukkan and its partner butcher shop first opened, in the scruffy, neighborhood of Armutlu and the Turkish papers ran the headlines – “Society Butchers in a Shantytown.”  The steakhouse and shop feature high-quality dry-aged steaks, aged to the exacting requirements of Mermer, a third generation stockbreeder, in a neighborhood where the houses are built from cement slapped between red brick.  This contrast of rich with poor reflects Turkey overall.  A founding member of the G20, a group that includes the European Union plus 19 of the world’s largest economies, Turkey has yet to be accepted into the EU itself.   The country shares borders with eight countries, and has a rich culture that is an amalgamation of the finer points from each neighbor.  Unfortunately, its food culture did not blossom quite as vibrantly.

When asked about the individuality of Turkish cooking, and the traditional method for cooking steak, in an interview for Food and Wine, Koryürek replied “People in Turkey tend to overcook meat.”  

Takano points out that because of its position at the center of all these cultures, most of the top restaurants are Italian or Japanese.   With Dukkan, she had the opportunity to work with a local restaurant,  provide employment opportunities in an underserved area, work with sustainability issues and broaden a country’s sense of self, food wise.

Turkey’s economy is traditionally agricultural, not industrial. There is, as Takano admits, less need to promote the organic sustainable aspect of Mermer’s business as most of the food in Turkey is organic.  The bigger picture was creating a slow food movement built on a delicious, decidedly Turkish menu.

Endeavor sent Takano to Turkey to help scale Emre’s business for growth, and potentially, additional restaurants.  There she found the opportunity to take Turkish entrepreneurism to the next level, by utilizing her past experience with financing and starts-up as well as the experience she gained from Columbia Business School and the Social Enterprise Program.

Takano helped Dukkan spur a wave of international restaurant growth.  Since it has opened, three new competitive steakhouses have arisen, including one driven by Dukkan’s former grill chef.


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