Meet the Turkish Immigrants of South Brooklyn: Experience the culture and taste of Turkey

By Yasin Akdag |

According to the World Population Review, New York City is home to the second-largest number of Turkish residents in the United States, amounting to 33,686 individuals or 0.17% of the state’s population. (Who beats us? New Jersey.) In South Brooklyn, you will see neighborhoods with tight-knit Turkish communities. This is especially true for Sheepshead Bay, which is packed with tempting Turkish bakeries and restaurants that will entice you to visit.

The major migration waves of Turks to America began in 1820 and lasted up until through 1970’s, with migration still happening today. Modern Turks are known to be influenced by Western culture, with economic and educational opportunities motivating them to emigrate to the United States.

Here are just two Turkish restaurants of note:

Safir Bakery & Cafe

Photo by Yasin Akdag.

Safir Bakery & Cafe, located on Kings Highway, is the perfect place to sample Turkish cuisine. Hatice Sirin, who is the manager of Safir Bakery & Cafe, welcomes you to try their Turkish delicacies. “American people like our breakfast items and also the dessert is more than 15 or 20 kinds of baklava pistachio, walnut, and hazelnut kinds,” she says. Turkish baklava goes perfectly together with a cup of Turkish tea. Feel like a king or queen while devouring an Ottoman-themed royal breakfast.

New York City’s Turkish community is growing and continues to grow, especially on and around Kings Highway. Hatice is the perfect example of a Turkish migrant who came to the area, intending to contribute to society, and started working at the bakery when it first opened 6 years ago. Having arrived here 17 years ago, she believes that in the Turkish community of Brooklyn, everyone is looking out for each other: “Yes, everybody likes each other, everybody helps each other…Our neighborhood is very quiet and clean and safe. [There are] many Turkish restaurants, Turkish markets, Turkish cafeterias–like us,’’ she says.

One regular Safir customer, Eyip Cowen, often visits accompanied by his cute puppy named Harley. Cowen, who was born in Mersin, Turkey and grew up in London, has been in New York for 40 years and found success by importing women’s shoes from abroad. He travels back and forth every day to his Manhattan office, on Fifth Avenue. He makes sure to stop by Safir Bakery & Cafe for the freshly made food and hospitable staff.

Cowen argues that Turks flock to South Brooklyn because family leads them there: “People grow their community, the community grows. It grows by family. If you have family here, then you come to join the family and it grows. If you don’t have family, you’re not gonna come. That’s what draws you here. Not just being Turkish, but if you have a family.”

Beyti Turkish Kebab

If we head farther south to Brighton Beach, the atmosphere changes noticeably. This area is known as Little Odessa for its noticeable Russian population, but Turkish restaurants and shops are also prevalent. The beach and lively shops and restaurants make for an attractive summer destination.

Here you will meet Sadik Cicek, who brought his cooking culture with him from Hatay, Turkey and owns the restaurant Beyti Turkish Kebab. Sadık used to work for a family in Saudi Arabia as a cook for 10 years, from 1991-2001, and then his partner moved to New York City to study for 4 years and brought Cicek with him. Upon completion of his Master’s, his partner returned to his country, while Cicek chose to stay here. He has been in the States since 1997 because he saw opportunities and wanted to achieve his American dream.

By 2010, Cicek saved up enough money to open up his own restaurant, and then he brought his family here in 2011. Cooking has been a tradition in his family for generations and customers love his authentic Turkish touch.

“What I learn from my city, I make here the same way,” he says. “I didn’t change it. That’s why my customers like my food.”

In 2023, Turkey was the victim of a major earthquake, where more than 50,000 people lost their lives. The ground swallowed entire cities across southeast Turkey, affecting 11 Turkish provinces.

Unfortunately, Cicek’s city, Hatay was among the provinces that took a hard hit.

“After 2023, my city had an earthquake and many people died,” Cicek says. “I lost 45 people I knew, mostly my friends.”

Turkish politics have also driven more Turks to leave the country. Some choose South Brooklyn as their new home. The aforementioned are only two of the many Turkish businesses that make up the Turkish community in South Brooklyn. Come visit and explore more.

Photo by Yasin Akdag.


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