After 20 years of sketching and planning his dream restaurant, Umut Özkanca has finally opened it.
Rüya, a Turkish restaurant is designed to cater to the international market, opened in Grosvenor House in October 2016. Founder Umut Özkanca wanted to open a restaurant from his native Turkey and create a brand from the Middle Eastern region that could have the same impact as Japanese restaurant, Nobu.
The food created is tailored to the international palette, though Özkanca refused to make it a fusion concept. “Fusion cooking alters the DNA of the food. We have kept the soul of the food but polished it for consumers of all nationalities. My chef, Colin [Clague] did the same thing with Café Zuma,” said Özkanca.
Özkanca took Clague to Turkey to sample a range of the available cuisine and he started developing dishes for the menu. If the dish deviated too much from the essence of the cuisine, the pair would brainstorm until they found the middle ground. Some dishes had to be made less spicy; some dishes were too heavy, so the fat or butter had to be reduced.
Rüya, Turkish for ‘dream’, was launched in Dubai but Özkanca nearly opened the first restaurant in London. An issue with a clause in the lease caused the delay, so he immediately flew to Dubai to sign on with Grosvenor House.
“I think the way things work out is luck or fate. Rüya is a new brand; it might be better to build it here until it is strong enough to compete in the London market. At the moment, if you want to succeed with a brand like Rüya, you have to make it in London. For the past five years the brands that are going global have come out of London,” he said.
Özkanca added that the advantage of opening the restaurant in Dubai is that the residents know food; consumers dine out frequently, they know the products on offer, and competition is fierce because the city is small and top brands are competing for business. “If a restaurant can succeed in Dubai, the chances are fairly good it will succeed in many other markets.”
The process of setting up the business was extremely smooth. Özkanca comes from a family with around 50 years’ experience in the restaurant business. He opened his first restaurant at the age of 23; Rüya is his 15th. He followed all the necessary processes and there were no unforeseen challenges. Rüya’s interior was designed by London-based firm Conran and Partners. The firm has over 30 years’ of international industry experience and has worked with Özkanca previously on two projects in Instanbul.
Within the restaurant’s first six weeks, Rüya had repeat customers which Özkanca took as a good sign. “No matter what marketing campaign you do, the best marketing is word-of-mouth. My father always taught me that this business is a marathon, not the 100 metres,” he said. To run that marathon Özkanca said the key is to focus on making restaurant patrons happy by providing good food and service.
Özkanca is taking the same steady approach with his expansion plan; he intends to open four or five restaurants over the next five years. The next restaurant will open in London, followed by Miami or New York, then Berlin, Hamburg, or Las Vegas. In the east, he is considering bringing Rüya to Singapore or Hong Kong.