Gamze Cizreli, 50, is one of Turkey’s top restaurant entrepreneurs – if not number one. Preparing to open a branch in Germany soon, her brand BigChefs has 60 restaurants in five countries, employing more than 2,800 people in Turkey, Arab Emirates, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
“Everything starts with dreaming, and it becomes reality through hard work and love. It also requires great sacrifice,” she told FemaleOneZero from Istanbul.
Gamze has no doubt made sacrifices. When she opened her first small cafe in Ankara in 1993, together with her then-fiancee, she had left a safe and well-paid job in the defense industry. To prepare for the leap, Gamze worked as an evening waitress in a restaurant alongside her day job.
The couple’s cafe business took off quicker than expected. Western-style items such as cappuccino, cheesecake or brownie, were still novelties in Turkey’s landlocked capital city. The couple went on to found three restaurant brands together.
But after a divorce in 2005, Gamze Cizreli had to restart on her own and from zero, having given up on her partnership in the restaurants. By then, she also had two sons to care for. With a bank loan, she founded BigChefs Cafe & Brasserie in 2007.
“Everything starts with dreaming, and it becomes reality through hard work and love. It also requires great sacrifice.”
“Failure can definitely be a part of the journey. It is also an important experience. One must be prepared for failure, prepared to be falling to the bottom and getting back up again,” Gamze said.
Recently she started “to give back” by supporting 24 women food producers in rural areas, including their products and traditional dishes in BigChefs menus.
“My biggest goal is to increase their number to hundreds (of women). It is important to protect local production and local knowledge. I want that to blend with women’s entrepreneurial spirit.”