REVERED FIGURE: The face of Turkish founding father Ataturk now occupies a prominent position along Whakatane’s The Strand. D8721-03

NAMING his son Ataturk and renaming his Turkish cafe the same, was a proud moment for Ozgur Jahn who has recently returned to the day-to-day running of his Whakatane cafe after a three-year hiatus.

“I wanted to signal a fresh start, a new beginning,” he says of his establishment on The Strand formerly known as the Turkish Kebab House.

Leasing out the popular eating spot in 2016 along with its fellow establishment, the Gallipoli Turkish Restaurant in Kopeopeo, Ozgur says he had decided it was time to take a break.

“I’d been working hard my whole life. I wanted to travel and experience some new things,” Ozgur says, the break also coinciding with the birth of his first child, a son, Ataturk, who was born in Whakatane last year.

Ozgur came to Whakatane in 2007, six years after first arriving in New Zealand as a student of English language. While he planned to leave the country following the course, he says things unfolded differently. Ozgur never left, and, in 2004, he gained citizenship of the country he describes as “the chosen one”.

With a history of work in the food industry, Ozgur says he spent the years following his study working in cafes and restaurants in the South Island. And, he says, a stint milking cows on a dairy farm in the deep south. But the young Turkish man was carrying a dream he had long held, a dream of owning and running his own café in a place that was near the sea.

“It was a logical and obvious choice for me,” he says. “I was a young single Turkish man in New Zealand with no family here, a love of Turkish food, and a lot of drive. What else was I going to do?”

How Ozgur ended up fulfilling that dream in Whakatane came through a chance meeting.

By then living in Auckland, a place he’d “never liked, too many foreigners,”, Ozgur was working in the restaurant of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

He says the restaurant was frequented by the late former Labour Party politician and Minister of Maori Affairs, Parekura Horomia.

“We began to talk,” Ozgur says. “Parekura knew so much about Turkey and its history, about Ataturk. I was very impressed.” And he says it was Parekura’s talk about the Eastern Bay, as well as recommendations from people in New Zealand’s Turkish food industry, that led him to explore the idea of opening a café in a town he had never visited. Whakatane.

On the drive down to explore the idea, he says he just knew he was driving to the place he would call home. “I had the strongest feeling. I was driving along the Matata straights and I thought “I am going to love this place and I’m going to live there. And I was right”.

Ozgur opened his cafe on The Strand in 2007, and in 2015, The Gallipoli Turkish Restaurant in King Street. All, he says, with the help of Whakatane man, Paul Wardlaw. “He has helped me with everything along the way, absolutely everything. He has helped me perhaps more than my own father.”

Ozgur says his decision this year to change the name of his Strand cafe to Ataturk follows the naming of his son.

“It is a matter of pride. Ataturk has great significance for Turkish people, and it is an important name for Kiwis, too,” he says, speaking of Turkey’s controversial leader who led the country from 1923 until 1938, and of whom is remembered by many Turks as the Founder of the Turkish Republic.

Coming to prominence during World War I as the Turkish Field Marshal who secured victory for the Turks at the Battle of Gallipoli, Mustafa Ataturk later led the Turkish National Movement, a political group that resisted Turkey’s partition following the war. He established a provisional government, freeing Turkey from the Ottoman Empire and proclaiming the country a republic.

Ozgur says Ataturk remains a revered figure for many Turks, seen as having brought great progress to the country, including his creation of previously denied equal political and civil rights for women.

But he says his decision to rename his cafe followed his attendance with a friend to an Anzac dawn parade in Whakatane. It was an experience he describes as profound. “I was moved in a way I had never been before, that salute to ancestors, the acknowledgement of those lost. It was truly incredible, a deep experience for me.”

He says it was that friend, “a Maori friend named Sheldon Keepa who has taught me so much,” who inspired him to change the name. “It was he that suggested I rename it,” Ozgur says. “That’s how it started.”

Following the ANZAC commemoration, he says he also made another decision. “I decided right then and there that I wanted to do something through the café to enable a couple of local people to go to Gallipoli to experience ANZAC commemorations there.”

To this end, Ozgur is still working on how he is going to do that. An entry box in the cafe he thinks, where people wanting a chance to go to Gallipoli could enter their name. “I’m not sure yet, I’m still figuring it out.”

But giving to the community is not new territory for Ozgur. His cafe and restaurant have had a strong focus on community support with a history of donations and sponsorship to assisting local people achieve their goals. And Ozgur’s community focus also led to him standing in a previous local body council elections, something he hasn’t ruled out repeating in the future.

“Whakatane is a wonderful place and New Zealand is a fantastic country,” he says. “A beautiful country. Lots of sheep and with very friendly people. I can’t understand why anyone who lives here complains about anything. Sure, it’s not perfect. Nowhere is. But I don’t think people who live in New Zealand can really appreciate how wonderful it is until they visit other parts of the world and see how hard it can be. I do like to go away on holiday, but it’s always even better to come back.”

Apart from the two Whakatane cafes, Ozgur also owns several online businesses including a commercial kitchen equipment importing company that operates between New Zealand, Italy, Germany and Turkey.

Ozgur’s mother moved to New Zealand five years ago, settling in Whakatane. His father who remains in Turkey, and his two sisters, visit often.