Real Character Stands Out

Today’s Zaman

Many expats initially come to Turkey on a fixed-term contract, working for international companies.

What can begin as a career move can then become a life changing one. This was the case for Phil Hall and his family, who moved here in 2006. Originally an agricultural engineer, he went into mechanical engineering and then the chemical industry. In Howden, Yorkshire, he and his wife, Jill, had a small business together, making petrochemical additives for the manufacturing industry before he became a director of an American chemical company, and it was this that brought him to Turkey.

Phil, Jill and their two sons Tristan and Callum packed up their lives and moved from a small market town in East Yorkshire to the outskirts of Istanbul, choosing Hadımköy as their new home for its proximity to the Istanbul International Community School and the city’s only small airfield, Hezarfen, where Phil indulges in one of his many passions: flying light aircraft. It was here where he met his current business partner, Sedat Zincirkıran, a fellow flying enthusiast, owner of an industrial catering company, Sardunya. The two became firm friends and when Phil’s two-year contract ended during the 2009 recession, they decided to find a way they could go into business together.

Seeing a gap in the market, they hit upon the idea of bringing the taste of traditional Britain to Turkey and opened the Bosphorus Brewing Company, a restaurant cum microbrewery. The tagline for the company is “Real Character Stands Out.” Whilst this is reference to the food and drink on offer, it is also the philosophy behind the company. Even when Phil was working in the chemical industry, he would hire employees based on the interests they listed on their CVs. Here he believes is where you can find out most about the suitability of a potential employee. “Not only does it show that they are an interesting character, but it also means that there is something to drive them to succeed, to enable them to spend more time and money doing things they love,” he told me.

A family business

I met with Phil from inside his latest venture. Formally a popular Sardunya restaurant, on Yildiz Posta Road in Gayrettepe, the family worked hard to strip the joint and redesign the place themselves. Enjoying a coffee together with the whole family on a quiet morning, you get the sense that this is a family business and that working to build this together has strengthened their family bonds. Callum was busy putting the finishing touches to the Christmas decorations when I arrived. He is 16 and still at school, so just helps out with odd jobs, along with chatting to the customers. The whole family excels at this and it is a crucial part of the roles they play.

Speaking with the same eloquence and gentle Yorkshire accent as his father, Callum told me he wants to work in transport design and architecture when he’s older. His older brother chipped in to point out that in working on the 3D designs for the layout of the restaurant, he learned the skills necessary to use the software that will be essential in this profession. Tristan, too, has learnt a lot. Now aged 19, his mum proudly tells me: “He’s become a practical chap. We designed and installed the equipment ourselves along with a large part of the structural design work and the majority of more complicated electrical installation work. Along the way he’s learned about electrics, construction and of course brewing.” Not only that, but his Turkish skills have gone from getting by with just the basics to becoming nearly fluent, often translating for his father when negotiating with the builders.

I asked Tristan how he found the move to Turkey initially. Quoting Jeremy Clarkson, a British TV presenter, he said, “Home is where your friends are. When we first came here, I was 13. It took two years for me to settle because I thought my home was in the UK where my old friends were. When I realised that I had to move on with my life, because they all had, I made new friends here. Now I have a good mix of international friends, so home is here.”

Whilst the brewing is mostly left to Phil and Tristan, Jill was instrumental in creating an authentic British pub menu. On it are all the classics that you’d expect to find such as a ploughman’s lunch, grilled beef sandwiches, steak cooked in ale and lasagne. “The most popular dishes are the most traditional ones,” she explained. “Most people come here for the sausage and mash or fish and chips. I suppose it reminds them of home.”

Connecting people

They have only been open a few weeks, but already have a selection of colorful characters they can call regulars. The clientele is roughly half-and-half Turks and expats from a wide range of backgrounds. “The expat community can sometimes feel a bit fragmented,” Phil told me. “What we wanted to do was to bring people together. Our objective was to create a community environment. That’s why we don’t have televisions on the wall or loud music: it’s somewhere people can come to talk, away from the craziness that is Istanbul.” He sees his position as key to this. “The environment relies on having a landlord who connects people. Part of our job is introducing people, which helps build the community spirit and brings the character. We’ve had literally thousands of people walk through our doors since we opened, and although they are getting to know me, I have to say I haven’t managed to remember all their names yet.”

The characters

One of the most interesting things about being an expat, the family agrees, is the diversity of the people you meet and the friends you make. Tristan tells me that he never expected to become firm friends with a 38-year-old Australian, and Callum is picking up Korean through the friends he’s made. Phil and Jill’s friends also come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from executives at HSBC to people who have married a Turk and come here to be with them.

“That’s what’s also nice about this place. In the UK, you meet interesting people, but the people who live here have a little bit extra. They’ve decided to come here and have faced the challenges and, as a result, have that a bit more character.”

“Our customers are a mixed bunch, from a group of American archaeology students to a French-Canadian fashion designer to the Cypriot-Turk from across the road who always brings us cake. We have some customers who don’t drink but who come to soak up the atmosphere. A lot of our local clientele are Turks who have lived abroad and acquired a taste for British food and culture and like the environment we’ve created.”

The Halls are a warm and friendly family who may have come to Turkey by chance but who stayed through choice. “When the recession hit, it affected a lot of people, both in the expat community and back home. The company I worked for no longer wanted to be active in Turkey. This forced me to create something myself, something that I was passionate about,” Phil explained, “I felt like there were more opportunities to do that here than back home, so we stayed. It doesn’t come without its trials and tribulations, of course, and we’ve faced a lot of issues, but through hard work and perseverance, we’ve overcome them and emerged stronger as a family. Now we’re extending our family even more through the characters we meet.”