By Anne McMullin
Richmond District residents Emre Kabayel and Neslihan Demirtas opened their Turkish restaurant, Lokma, in February of 2018.
Kabayel came to San Francisco six years ago, armed with a degree in electrical engineering from Turkey, with a plan to learn English and then return to his native country to work as an engineer. After studying English for a year, he decided to enroll at Skyline College to sharpen his communication skills and to take classes in business administration.
After completing a certificate program, he took a job at Kitchen Istanbul, a Turkish restaurant at Fifth Avenue and Clement Street. He worked his way through a number of jobs and discovered that he really loved the restaurant business.
Kabayel and his girlfriend, Demirtas, noticed that there were no Mediterranean restaurants in their Central Richmond neighborhood and they began to dream of opening one of their own. When they saw a Craigslist ad for a small space with big windows at the corner of 19th Avenue and Clement, they jumped at the opportunity to lease the spot and open their own restaurant.
The couple made some changes to the cozy space before opening, painting it a lighter color inside, adding sound panels to the ceiling and placing potted plants on the wood tables. The resulting space looks modern and welcoming. They also added tables outside, which are popular with families and dog owners.
Kabayel and Demirtas were eager to introduce people to other Turkish dishes in addition to the popular and more familiar kababs, gyros and flat breads. Their families back in Turkey helped them put together their menu and once set, they trained their chef to prepare the dishes, which they continue to experiment with and perfect.
The owners and staff at Kitchen Istanbul have been very supportive of their venture, helping them with their menu, logo and even the restaurant’s name, Lokma, which means “a bite” in Turkish. They frequent each other’s restaurants regularly and share ideas.
Originally open for just breakfast and lunch, they quickly expanded to include a dinner menu. Their traditional Turkish Breakfast for two is very popular and includes sujuk, a dry, spicy sausage, and pastirma, a cured beef, as well as eggs, feta, olives, hummus and pita with honey, nuts and kaymak, a creamy dairy product similar to clotted cream.
Dan Hart, who lives two blocks away, says he goes to Lokma for the Turkish breakfast because, “it is hearty, healthy and a totally unique tasting experience.” Other breakfast items include fluffy Greek yogurt pancakes, avocado toast and a bulgar porridge served with coconut milk, granola and almonds.
Lunch items include sandwiches, salads and the Lokma burger, which is made with beef and lamb and garnished with arugula, tomatoes, feta and pickled onions.
For dinner, Lokma serves a variety of dishes including: Manti, a Turkish-style dumpling; short rib stew with vegetables and saffron rice; grilled whole Mediterranean sea bass; and lamb chops with feta mashed potatoes. A favorite dessert is shredded filo dough wrapped around pistachios, whipped cream and honey.
Kabayel acknowledges that “when you own a restaurant, you work all the time, even when the restaurant is closed.” He said that he and Demirtas have both learned a lot in the short time since they opened. He feels that key to running a successful restaurant is using fresh, quality ingredients, keeping an eye on all the details and really listening carefully to the customers. He proudly shared that Lokma was listed in the 2019 Michelin Guide.
Frequent patron Francesca Gilberti Burke effused, “From their perfect Turkish brunch for two to the pillowy lamb dumplings for dinner and house-made pita anytime, Lokma brings the Mediterranean fare the neighborhood needs with authentic, healthy and uniquely special dishes you can’t help but go back for.”
Kabayel and Demirtas, who live within walking distance of their restaurant, say they really enjoy their customers and their Richmond District location. Kabayel says that they are very grateful for the way their neighbors have embraced them and their business.
“We really feel their love,” he said.
Lokma is located at 1801 Clement St., at 19th Avenue. For menus and more information, call : (415) 702-6219 or visit http://www.lokmasf.com.