By Mirela Sula
After enjoying the traditional lunch at a very nice restaurant in central London with one of my friends who had come from America, Dr Norman Rosenthal, I was ready to leave. For one moment my instinct halted me at the door. I saw two men talking together at the reception and I wanted to tell them how special their food was. They stopped their conversation when they saw me approaching and I used the chance to talk to them.
“Sorry for interrupting you”, I said to one of the men, who was dressed in a suit, subconsciously ‘ignoring’ the other man that was talking to him. “I am the editor in chief of Migrant Woman magazine, this is my business card Can you please pass this to your chef or your manager, as I would like to write an article about Turkish food, and maybe listen to the story of your owner? I have a feeling that there is a special story behind this.”
He smiled, they both smiled, and the man that I was ‘ignoring’ left saying something in Turkish. I didn’t understand but the man I was talking with was laughing even more.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him feeling surprised.
“Madam, he is the chef, and he is the boss.”
“Oh, but why has he left?”
“Because he was randomly here, he is very busy, and he rarely comes here. I am surprised you found him here today, right now.”
“And what is the reason for laughing?
“I am laughing madam because you know what he said to me? The lady is talking to you, but I am going to be featured in the magazine, not you!”.
We laughed together even more. He was the chef – he was the boss – the man who had just left!
Everything Happens for a Reason
On my journey back I was still thinking, “Why did I speak with the other man, instead of speaking with the owner?” What made me stop at the door just before leaving and ask for the chef? As a spiritual person I always look for signals who guide me to meet the right people, at the right place, at the right time – these are always people that I need to meet. What made me believe that there is a special story behind this? Maybe some of the answers I found when I met Onder Sahan, the migrant man who built ‘The Tas Empire’.
I met Onder Sahan a few days later at his Southwark Restaurant. The story and the person that I discovered, is truly incredible and inspirational, and it is my honour and privilege to share it with the readers of Migrant Woman magazine.
Onder first came to London 25 years ago, with the intention of it only being for a temporary stay and to then return to Turkey. In fact Onder’s family had originally migrated to Istanbul two generations earlier. In 1990 when Onder found himself in London, in completely new circumstances, and speaking or understanding very little of the English language, the first thing he had in mind was the need to adapt and embrace change. His first job was in a factory ironing clothes followed by work in a coffee shop and as a cook in a restaurant and within a few months he realised that cooking was his passion. After six years Onder decided to leave the job and start his own business.
For the next eight months Onder spent his time searching central London to be sure of choosing the right venue for his first restaurant. His persistence and belief, from monitoring carefully every area, the number of people, the peak times, where people went, and other restaurants nearby, reveals the drive and the desire to succeed of a very astute person. Yet while talking with Onder, as he shares his story with me, he often defines himself not as exceptionally intelligent but as a very modest person, which is said with honesty. He does not drive or own a car and travels everywhere on public transport using his Oystercard. Onder works seven days a week and has not ever had a holiday in the last 14 years. He considers his business trips to be his holidays!
However, his story and success reveals a deep level of intelligence at an unconscious level. With this intelligence, this man chose the venue of the first restaurant, following eight months of careful research, and found the way to acquire it by approaching the right people and with a positive intention and strong belief to succeed. Only one year later, he would open the second restaurant and from thereon has continued opening more until reaching twenty in fourteen years and employing 400 people from all sorts of backgrounds both on a full-time and part-time basis.
The story of Onder is about the persistence of an outstanding man to succeed, despite the language barriers, the new rules of the new society, the knowledge, the networks, or even the lack of education in this field. Onder confesses that he had never done any course in cooking, or had any education or other relevant background. His talent to cook is a gift he was born withand this amazing story shows us that if we believe in our gift, we must invest and develop it to be able to share it with others, which is what Onder is doing.
His kindness, love and empathy for people make him even more charismatic to the big team, or ‘family’ that he has built. They call him Onder Bey or Abu Onder, which is a way to express respect, love and honour for him. It is a multicultural team, and appear to convey the same positive energy transmitted by the leader. His restaurants are always full and offer a menu of a wide variety to suit every taste and desire.
Ten Recipe Secrets of Onder Sahan’s Success
1. I have never felt desperate for money. Since I have never been fond of an expensive or luxurious lifestyle I have always had the means to meet my basic needs.
2. I believe in luck. I met the right people at the right times and developed my relations with them. I achieved this by working patiently and by setting out targets in line with my talents and intelligence.
3. I always wanted to be myself and never tried to be someone else. To be myself without losing my characteristics or affection is my biggest asset despite all the difficulties I have experienced.
4. I try to manage my businesses with colleagues whose wisdom and skills I have faith in.
5. My first and most important criterion is to employ people who have the legal right to work in the UK. Since we function in the services sector, anyone having the right conditions for the work is a valuable and potential candidate for us irrespective of his/her ethnic background, language or religion.
6. Employees in the service industry must be equipped with knowledge, techniques and skills required to perform the position they apply for.
7. Maintaining good relations with people is very important. One must smile and have a positive attitude. I also advise my employees to provide solutions to problems rather than complain or accuse others in difficult times.
8. What motivates me more than anything else is to be beneficial to people and add value to their lives. We should not be merely consumers who benefit from the opportunities offered by nature or by other people but we should also be prepared to give back to society as much as we can.
9. One of my ambitions is to make sure that whatever I know or observe reaches out to as many people as possible.
10. My priority and biggest motivation is to share true and useful knowledge with all people on Earth.
We visited a number of his restaurants and kitchens on an escorted tour kindly arranged by Onder, tasting not only the great food but also the opinions of some of the migrant women who are employed to his restaurants.
Aygul Maral, from Turkey – I studied a ‘Hotel and Tourism’ course in Turkey. I came to England in 1992 (aged 26) to learn and improve my English. I lived in Kent for one year and moved to London, where I currently live. I met Onder Sahan in my first job in London, which led me to work for his own company, Tas Restaurant, for the last eight years. The job gave me the opportunity to meet and work with different ethnic groups and clients. I enjoyed my position in the company because I learned new skills and met many famous faces such as Kristin Scott Thomas, Kevin Spacey, Boris Johnson and many more. This company has allowed me to feel comfortable not only in the workplace but with living in London. I now consider London my home, since I’m living with my family too.
Desislava Icheva, from Bulgaria – I came to London a few months ago to improve my English and I found myself fascinated with this city. I decided to stay here, but I needed a job. I was so happy when I was told that I had got the job at one of the Tas Restaurants. It told me that if you have the determination to find a job, you can always find it. This is the perfect job for me to start my journey in life. Next year I am planning to continue my studies. I want to go to university and this job is giving me the opportunity to earn some money and learn more about life. In the future I want to have my own business. This experience is teaching and inspiring me so much.
Leanary Pecarari, from Italy -Leanary is half Nigerian and half Italian. She was born in Nigeria, and at the age of five her family moved with her to Italy. When she was nine years old, she moved with her family to London, at eleven she moved to Ireland and at the age of eighteen she moved back to Italy. Now at twenty one, Leonary decided to come to London on her own. I came to London only two months ago with my friend. We together decided to come to London to find a summer job. After finishing our studies we tried for about three years to find a job in Italy but it was impossible. I have applied so many times to get a job but received no answer at all. I started to feel very frustrated being dependent on my parents and used to feel very bad asking them for money all of the time. After three years in Italy of searching for a job with no result, it took only five days to find a job in London. I love the feeling of being independent. I love the environment that is created at this restaurant, the food, the culture, and also the team is fantastic. Now I would like to earn some money and gain more experience, and soon my dream is to start a university degree. I want to become a social worker, to work with children and their families, to be in contact with people.