Behind The Biz: Özerlat

If you’re new around here, #BehindtheBiz is an interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.

This week’s interview is for all the coffee lovers out there.

For nearly a century – coffee has flowed through their veins. Now Özerlat are bringing the art of Turkish coffee back to the UK. Özerlat was founded in 1917 by Dervis Özerlat. He was the first person to introduce freshly roasted Turkish coffee to Cyprus. Today Özerlat is run by his grandson, also called Dervis, and his great granddaughter, Iley.

Today I’m delighted to be chatting with Iley Özerlat.

Where did the inspiration for Özerlat come from?

For me coffee has always been an important part of life. Coming from a family that has been roasting coffee for generations, I guess it was only a matter of time before I jumped on the band wagon! Özerlat was founded in Cyprus by my great grandfather in 1917. It has been passed down over 3 generations – from father to son – and now my father, Dervis Özerlat, is running the business back home in Cyprus with my mother.

Throughout my childhood, I spent my holidays and free time at our coffee shop helping my parents – I loved it! I grew up watching my dad stand next to the roaster – checking on the coffee beans and each step of the process. He was very meticulous, not wanting to let his customers down. This is because customer satisfaction and high quality coffee has always been Özerlat’s objective. I watched my father and mother work hard to take the business from strength to strength over years – so I always knew it was something that I was going to do too – I just wasn’t sure when.

How did you decide upon the name of your brand?

Özerlat is our family name – and the name our coffee has been known for over 100 years. I wanted to keep it the same in the UK to reflect our history and heritage.

Why did you decide to bring Özerlat to the UK?

I’ve been living in London for over 10 years and during this time I’ve witnessed the evolution of coffee. In Cyprus, it’s been a part of our daily routine for centuries – on average people have 5 or 6 cups of Turkish coffee a day, they almost take it for granted. In London, I’ve noticed how important coffee has become – people no longer just ask for ‘a coffee’ – they want to know where the beans have come from, how they are processed and roasted. In some coffee shops you can now choose which way you want your coffee brewed – this is very exciting for me to see! You can have a Chemex today and a syphon coffee tomorrow. What’s great about this movement is that it means the quality and taste of coffee in London has started to improve. Despite all this attention and growing knowledge about coffee, I could still see a gap in the market – for good quality, proper Turkish coffee.

Currently Turkish coffee in the UK – or even in Turkey today – is not what I experienced back home. It’s either too bitter or made with a lot of sugar. The brewing method has also been portrayed as something very complicated, which can be discouraging – in fact brewing Turkish coffee is actually very simple, all you need is a small pot, water, and fine ground coffee. What’s unique about Turkish coffee is how you serve it and drink it. It’s served unfiltered so the grounds settle at the bottom and enrich the drink. It’s also served with a glass of water and a sweet treat – traditionally Turkish delight – which is why we partnered up with a producer in Turkey to bring the full experience to our customers here. Turkish coffee is a drink that makes you slow down, you take time out of your day to make it and you drink it at leisure – it’s a unique experience. I set up Özerlat in the UK to change the perception of Turkish coffee. I want every coffee lover to experience what real Turkish coffee has to offer.

Did you always plan to be involved with the family business?

Yes, I always knew I would do it eventually – I just didn’t know when. I left Cyprus when I was 17 and went to university in America, after completing my degree I moved to London to do my PhD. I became a research scientist and then an editor at a science journal – waiting for the right time to embark on my coffee journey. With my husband’s encouragement and support I bit the bullet and quit my job to set out on this Turkish coffee adventure.

What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?

There are always challenges when running a business, but I enjoy overcoming them and seeing myself develop further each time. We’re introducing a new habit to the UK, so the biggest challenge at the moment is changing consumers perceptions. But we are dedicated – and can see new fans popping up every day.

What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?

There are too many to choose from! For example, getting the invitation for this interview was a highlight! When we got our first stockist – Partridges in Sloane Square – I was over the moon. We are now in more than 10 shops in London and I still get excited every time an order is placed!

What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?

Social media has played a huge role from the beginning. It helped us to get people to our stand when we launched at Taste of London. Within days of opening our Twitter account we got lots of people following us and saying how excited they were to taste our coffee and Turkish delight. We use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – but we get the most attention from Instagram. This is because Turkish coffee is very visual – it’s served in an ornate cup with a side of water and a sweet – Instagram is the best platform to share this on.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Never give up. It is a difficult but equally wonderful journey. Persistence is key, so keep on telling your story and finding ways to achieve your objectives.

Where do you hope to take your business in 2017?

2017 is a big year for us because we are celebrating 100 years of Özerlat! My aim today is the same as it was at the beginning – spread the word about Turkish coffee and reach out to more coffee drinkers to share this experience.

You can buy Özerlat coffee – Mozaik and Heritage, accessories and 5 delicious flavours of Turkish delight over on their website. Keep up to date and support Özerlat over on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

I want to say a very big thank you to Iley for taking the time to be a part of Behind the Biz. I was very excited to have her on-board with the series because I’m a big fan of Özerlat coffee and I love to support women in business. I also think the story behind the business is very important, especially her family history. I wish Iley and her team at Özerlat all the best for 2017. I can’t wait to see the business continue to grow and introduce more people to the world of Turkish coffee. 

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