Cüneyt Asan, the larger-than-life co-founder of Günaydın speaks to Catering News about how he developed a small butcher shop into one of Turkey’s most respected restaurant brands and his plans for the three upcoming Günaydıns in Dubai.
Catering News caught up with the eccentric Cüneyt Asan, co-founder of Turkish chain of restaurants, Günaydin, during his recent visit to his Souk Al Bahar venue in Dubai. The brand, founded in 1965, now has 41 outlets in Turkey, one in Dubai and one in Azerbaijan, and there are big plans for its expansion internationally.
Part of Turkey’s D.ream Group – which also counts Nusret, Coya, La Petite Maison and Zuma under its umbrella – Günaydın has strong growth plans but it is not a brand that will be franchised, says Asan.
“We cannot give it to someone else – nobody can give it the same love,” he comments. The Souk Al Bahar outlet encapsulates the Günaydın sub-brands in one – Günaydın Kasap/Steakhouse, Günaydın Et (Günaydın Kebap) and Günaydın Köfte & Döner – with the aim of giving diners in Dubai a wide variety of options.
“Here we did it altogether in one branch and that’s the difference from our other restaurants. In Turkey, we only have the Steakhouse brand or the Döner brand,” explains Asan.
Three more Günaydın restaurants are signed and in the pipeline for Dubai: one at Mall of the Emirates, which will also incorporate the three sub-brands; another at Bluewaters Island, to encompass the Steakhouse and Kebap brands with “a perfect bar”; and a Steakhouse, set to open at the upcoming Mandarin Oriental hotel in Dubai. In addition to this, Jeddah, Makkah and Riyadh have been earmarked for Günaydın restaurants, and the team is setting its sights further afield to London and New York.
“Using traditional methods makes the food more delicious and people can understand when they taste it that it has the real flavours, which are lost if you use a machine”
“We have to think about what kind of people will go there and what sort of atmosphere there will be – then we’ll design the restaurants based on this,” says Asan.
Coming from a strong background in meat preparation, Asan started out working in a small butcher shop in İstanbul’s Bostanci neighborhood as a child to make extra money for the family.
“I learned everything about how to cut the meat. To do the best job you can, you have to understand the meat from the beginning, from the farmers. It was a great experience and I learned the real fundamentals,” he comments.
When he returned to his home town after military service, Asan joined the butcher shop’s owners – two brothers called Nimet and İsmet Yalçın – as a partner. The shop evolved into the first Günaydın restaurant.
“I wanted to open a restaurant to teach people about meat preparation. I wanted to share my knowledge with others and to make my job bigger and better,” he says, explaining that the concept began as an American bar and library. “All the newspapers were featuring me and I was very popular at that time – I made butchery popular in the country.”
Günaydın expanded quickly throughout Turkey, however its roots remained firmly steeped in tradition, underlined by Asan’s deep understanding of, and passion for meat.
One of the brand USPs of Günaydın, is that the restaurants utilise traditional preparation methods rather than modern equipment. For example, in the Dubai restaurant the chef who makes katmer – a sweet pastry from eastern Turkey filled with clotted cream and pistachios – has been doing so using the traditional method for 28 years, and creates the dish in front of customers at an open station. Meanwhile, the mincemeat for kebabs isn’t ground using a mincing machine – instead it is hand-sliced with a knife to retain the flavour and moisture.
“We’ve never changed our taste or our quality, and we always follow this way. We believe people understand what’s different about Günaydın restaurants”
“Using traditional methods makes the food more delicious and people can understand when they taste it that it has the real flavours, which are lost if you use a machine,” comments Asan.
Another important aspect of the brand is using the most authentic ingredients, with everything from the butter to the pistachios and lamb sourced from Turkey. Günaydın also has a meat production farm in Malkara-Tekirdağ with more than 10,000 calves and 5,000 lambs, and this is where much of the meat for the restaurants comes from.
“We get quality meat because the animals are very happy; maybe in other places if the animal isn’t ok, the meat would be tough,” explains Asan, who says some meat also comes from Australia, particularly the dry-aged beef, which hangs in glass cabinets in the restaurant.
Another factor that adds to the Dubai restaurant’s authenticity is that the kitchen team is predominantly made up of Turkish chefs. Only two of the chefs are not Turkish, and some of them have been working with the Günaydın brand for up to 24 years.
“We’ve never changed our taste or our quality, and we always follow this way. We believe people understand what’s different about Günaydın restaurants,” says Asan.
“In Anatolia, there are many different types of chef and they teach each other things from thousands of years ago, so in Turkey we have a very historical culture from that. It’s very rich and we want to show this and explain this with Günaydın.