When was Lale Pide launched ? What’s the story behind Lale Pide ?
Our story began in 1989, when I was only 12 years old, in Konya Aksehir where I started working as an apprentice at Lale Kebap. After learning the secrets of kebab, pide and Etli Ekmek there in 4-5 years, I started working in a hotel in Antalya and this marked the beginning of my professional career. I wanted to surpass myself and go beyond the pide and the kebab. So I spent my time observing other chefs, which allowed me to improve in the preparation of hot and cold starters and main courses. Today, if I can afford to be in the catering business as Lale Catering, it’s because of the experience I gained in this hotel.
Later, I worked in a larger hotel. Before my military service, I worked as a chef in a 5-star hotel. For five years, I had the opportunity to improve myself and discover the cuisines of the world.
After my military service, I worked for three years in a luxury hotel. Then I moved to Belgium in 2003, and that’s where the story of Lale Pide started. I had several family members in Belgium, so moving there was always an option. After working in a restaurant until 2009, I decided to start in October 2009 and took the steps to open Lale Pide. On February 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm, we welcomed our first customer.
So you remember your very first customer? That’s impressive!
I dropped out of school at 12 to start working. I was so small that I had to climb on crates to get to the counter. I worked a lot to get where I am today, and that’s also why my first client is very important to me.
In fact, all of our clients are important. At Lale Pide, we see every customer as a member of our family. That’s why we call it Lale Pide. I haven’t forgotten that little restaurant where I learned the business in 1989, and that’s how I wanted to pay tribute to it.
And how did you go from a small restaurant to one this size?
Our restaurant was smaller until 2017. In 2017, we had the opportunity to take over the adjacent premises, which was a pastry shop. So we went from a capacity of 40 people to a capacity of 280 people.
At the moment, and thanks to the interest of our customers, we sometimes have difficulty welcoming all our customers. We have many projects at this level for the future.
And what is the secret of your success?
I never thought of myself as a boss. I work hand in hand with my employees to provide high quality service to all our customers. We’re one big family at Lale Pide, and that’s the secret to our success.
We never present the customer with a product that we wouldn’t consume ourselves. My whole family and my children also eat here at the restaurant. We eat the dishes prepared by Lale Pide’s chefs for our special occasions. So our philosophy is that if we don’t like a product, we don’t serve it to the customer. Even if it’s a very small thing, like the colour of a tomato that we don’t think is red enough.
What are the difficulties of exercising such a profession? Is it tiring?
Of course there are difficulties. For example, it is important to evaluate customer feedback. They are essential for us. We take them into account and do our best to improve. It is out of the question not to consider a customer’s opinion for us. It’s not always easy to satisfy the customer, but we do it by working hard. That makes us happy. It’s not working that tires us, but rather the other way around. Our greatest motivation is the smile of our customers.
You talk about a family atmosphere, and you really work with your family members. What are the pros and cons of such a structure?
My three sisters and my brother-in-law work here with me. So I have peace of mind in this respect: I am with my family, and I am happy. What more could I ask for? My brother-in-law is in charge of external relations, and my sisters manage the kitchen. They are the ones who control every dish we prepare. If it’s soup, for instance, I know that no one can prepare it better than my sister. I trust my team and the products we offer.
In this type of establishment, employee satisfaction is as important as customer satisfaction. How do you ensure employee satisfaction?
We are a team of 36 people. Our latest recruit has been with us for 4 years. Being a family means including all our employees in this family spirit. When we hire, we make sure to contact their references and instill this family spirit. To illustrate, I wear the same uniform as the rest of the staff. The client doesn’t have to know that I’m the boss. I’m not here as Levent Can. My only desire is that our clients know Lale Pide. In fact, I’m never sole responsible for making important decisions. For example, our restaurant is composed of 4 parts, and a waiter is responsible for each part. So everyone takes their share of responsibility and is free to take initiatives. The customers are now used to this system, and sometimes they ask to be installed in the part of this or that waiter. This kind of relationship strengthens the bonds of our institution with our customers, and that makes us happy.7
Lale Pide is said to “the” place for Etli Ekmek and Pide. What’s your secret?
Anything done with love is beautiful. We simply do our work with love, that’s all. All the products we use are natural, from our meat to our spices. But the most important thing is to have and love your work. That’s what gives flavour to our dishes. You have to love your work, and use the right ingredients at the right time, without forgetting to put love into the presentations. Love embellishes everything.
You also have a catering service.
Yes, it happened unexpectedly and we’re proud of it. A friend needed this service for regular meetings. I started the service to help him out. Afterwards, with word of mouth, the number of people asking for it grew. Satisfying the customer also brought me satisfaction and I decided to offer this service in a professional way. My professional experience helped me a lot in this direction. Before the Covid-19 period, we offered our catering service 16 days a month. We are in great demand by some consulates and ministries, which is a source of pride for us. The support of the embassy is invaluable to us. Turkish Airlines and Sabanci Holding are also among our loyal customers. I am not only talking about Turkish companies, but also major brands such as Euro Control and Cisco, which are also among our regular customers. Serving these major brands is a great gift to us.
You offer a multitude of dishes. Have you developed this over time, or has this variety always existed?
I couldn’t list the number of dishes we have, but I can tell you that we have 48 different kinds of pizzas and pide. We have made up our menu with customer satisfaction in mind. All our dishes are made from common products, which means that we can offer each of our dishes in any season.
A final word, you have achieved a great deal in Belgium. Have you ever wanted to return to Turkey? Or do you want to?
I love my country very much and I have to say that I get homesick sometimes. But my goal is to represent Turkish culture abroad. I would like everyone to know about Turkish cuisine, our many dishes, our beautiful culture… Currently, we are watching on the 12 televisions in our restaurant a video of Turkey, approved by the consulate. All our guests can watch this video during their meal. We want them to go on holiday and discover our country in detail. We also want to welcome all Turkish speakers living in Belgium, like us, who are homesick and want to rediscover the excellent classics of Turkish cuisine. We would like to welcome them into our big family, and we are proud to represent our country abroad.