By Paula Roy
Owners Cigdem and Ammar Gulen may have taken a circuitous route to the hospitality industry, but it has been a rewarding journey for them. Since purchasing their March
Road eatery, LUNA Crêpes & Café, in early 2015, the business has grown steadily. So much so, in fact, that they’ve recently opened a second location in the Bayshore Shopping Centre.
The Turkish-born couple emigrated from their homeland in 2001 and worked in the television and communications industries in Canada and the United States for several years.
The decision to settle permanently in Ottawa came about when their eldest child was in grade 3.
“We found it challenging to be constantly applying for U.S. work permits, plus we wanted our daughter to start French immersion in grade 4, so we decided to return to Ottawa, where we had lived briefly before,” says Cigdem.
Relocating to a new city wasn’t enough for these eager entrepreneurs; they also chose to change their career paths.
“We both felt it was time to do something else and knew that running a café would not just be about making money, it would be about making people happy,” she says.
The fact that they were able to find the ideal location in Kanata North is something Cigdem attributes to destiny.
“We live nearby; I was out for a walk one day and noticed this business for sale. I saw that this is a nice area with lots of people working and living nearby so felt it would be ideal for a café focusing on breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch.”
There were several challenges that the Gulens had to overcome once they took ownership of the cafe. Changing the interior decor and furniture was perhaps one of the easier ones and they have effectively created a space that is cheerful and welcoming.
They budgeted to update the premises in stages and the spacious outdoor patio will be the next project, says Cigdem. Another hurdle which has clearly been successfully overcome, based on the cafe’s popularity all day long, was to overhaul the menu and switch from commercially prepared products to dishes now made completely from scratch.
From their acclaimed sweet and savoury crêpes to waffles, panini, omelettes, house-made gelato and more, the Gulens based their offerings on what they themselves like to eat.
“Serving up top-quality food is important to us because we view the café as an extension of our home,” says Cigdem. “We want to share our love of good food and offer people a happy place in which they can relax and enjoy themselves. It’s nice to see our tables and couches filled with high school students on a break, groups of parents chatting over coffee or lunch and businesspeople having informal meetings.”
Perhaps their biggest challenge was to generate awareness that the business had changed ownership and was being operated in a distinctly different manner.
“We knew it would be hard to change people’s prior perceptions, but we were pleasantly surprised,” she says. “People told us they saw an honest, hard-working family trying to turn the business around and they wanted to find out what we were doing here. Many of those early supporters have become cherished friends.”
A ‘WONDERFUL COMMUNITY’
Cigdem admits those new friends have been extra-important to the Gulen family in recent months, ever since Ammar started treatments for cancer.
“I cannot believe how warm and supportive our customers have been; they help us out in so many different ways when we need a hand. We feel so very grateful to be part of such a wonderful community here in Kanata North.”
With the opening of their second location, the couple is happy to be able to offer additional possibilities for employment to newcomers from Turkey who have fled due to the political turmoil there.
“Once Ammar completes his cancer treatments and regains his health, we would certainly consider additional locations to provide more jobs,” says Cigdem.
LUNA received the 2017 Restaurant – Fast Serve Award from the West Ottawa Board of Trade (now part of the Ottawa Board of Trade), an achievement that likely stems in part from the Gulen’s constant search for new inspiration.
“We love going to Chelsea and Old Montreal, as they remind us of the European influences in our native Istanbul. Rather than simply following the Ottawa trends, we want to see what’s happening around the world.
“We’re so pleased to be in Kanata North – it’s close to downtown but developing all the time as more restaurants, cafes, retail shops and other services open their doors,” says Cigdem. “I love that our family can eat, shop, go to school, work and live all within just a
few kilometres, while also having access to safe, convenient transit, beautiful outdoor spaces, a public library and year-round recreation opportunities. It’s the perfect location for us and for LUNA.”