Gaziantep is an empire of taste in Southeastern Turkey. Among regional traditions thousands of years old, delicious pastries, kebabs, and sweets hold a place of honor. Indeed, when one thinks of baklava, the first place that comes to mind is Gaziantep; and baklava chefs from Gaziantep are prized above all others. Steeped in this culture, the Güllü family has been making baklava since the 1800s. Family folklore has it that the first member of the clan to go into the baklava business was Hacı Mehmed Chelebi, known as “Güllü Chelebi.” It is said that he traveled to Aleppo and Damascus in order to hone his skills. After staying there for six months and learning all the subtleties of the art, he returned to Gaziantep and established a baklava bakery. After Güllü Chelebi’s death, his wife Güllü baked baklava at home and their sons sold them, thus allowing the family to subsist. Eventually their son Hacı Mahmud Güllü (1859-1928) took over the business, making baklava with fine sheets of hand-rolled dough. All four of his sons also entered the profession, and thus baklava became a Güllü family tradition. Hacı Mehmed Said Güllü (1879-1962), Hacı Mustafa Güllü (1882-1927), Ali Güllü (1892-1947), and Hacı Mahmud Güllü (1899-1985) were members of the following generations who followed in their forefathers’ footsteps.
The Güllüs were already a large family in the nineteenth century, and their name appears in official records in numerous capacities. Which of these individuals were members of the actual branch that eventually went into the pastry business is difficult to determine. Thus, for example, many mosques and commercial buildings in the Ottoman city of Aintab (Antep, today’s Gaziantep) were administered by pious foundations, and Hacı Mahmud Güllü, son of Güllü Chelebi, appears in the historical records as a trustee of the foundation that administered the affairs of the Alaüddevle Mosque. The Qadi Court Register No. 159 for Aintab contains the phrase “Mehmed Şerif, known as the kebab seller Mahmud, son of the kebab seller Güllü Çelebi” indicates that the Güllü family had been involved in the kebab business from an even earlier date. Another court record, this one from 1905 concerning two shops belonging to the pious endowent of the Alaybeyi Mosque, mentions the workplace of “the kebab seller Hacı Mahmud.” This record shows that the kebab shop in question was at the Helvacı Pazarı (the Halva-sellers’ market) in Uzun Çarşı, one of the traditional shopping centers of the city.
Güllü Chelebi was involved in seeking solutions to social problems, and was thus greatly respected in his day. His son Hacı Mustafa took over his father’s business ethics and culinary secrets and passed them on to his own son Mustafa. He in turn moved the business to a store formerly operated by a blacksmith next to the Hacı Nasır Mosque and began to sell not only baklava but also kebabs. In particular, the shop’s beyran (a spicy lamb and rice soup usually eated for breakfast in Antep) was extremely popular. Hacı Mustafa went on pilgrimage twice, but his health took a turn for the worse after his second trip and he died in 1928. By then, his sons had become experts in their own right. In 1930, the company began to ship dry baklava in wooden boxes to neighboring provinces, carrying the Güllü name beyond Gaziantep.
The tradition in Antep used to be that baklava was sold not by independent stores but by kebab houses. That began to change in the 1930s; thus, for instance, Güllü Ali opened one of the first stores entirely dedicated to selling baklava on Suburcu Avenue. Soon thereafter, Güllü Said opened another store on the same avenue, at the corner opposite the Maarifin Gardens; he also built a hotel above the store. In 1930, the Millî Sanayi Kataloğu (Catalogue of National Industry) recorded thirteen baklava sellers in Gaziantep, among whom “Güllü Zâde Said” also appeared in the Aziz Hacı Nasır Çarşısı (Marketplace). Family members recall that while small disagreements invariably took place, overall the brothers got along well and struggled together under difficult economic conditions.
Provincial statistics for the year 1935 indicate that there were 73 bakeries selling bread, baklava, and kadayıf (a dessert made of shredded wheat, usually stuffed with walnuts or pistachio nuts) in Gaziantep. In 1938, however, those businesses that specialized in baklava only numbered three: Ali Güllü, Said Güllü, and Mehmed (İnal). The same three names were listed in the Commercial Yearbook for 1942-1943. In the Türk Ticaret Rehberi (Turkish Commercial Directory) for 1944-1945, merchants were ranked according to their respective volume of business. In this ranking, Said and Mahmud Güllü were qualified as “extraordinary.” Their branch was described as “wholesale groceries” and their address was once again No. 14 next to the Hacı Nasır Mosque.
Given the success of his baklavas, Hacı Mahmud Güllü decided in 1949 to carry the business to İstanbul. In that, he followed the advice of his relatives there who had informed him that baklava prices in İstanbul were double what they were in Gaziantep, and that there was tremendous business potential to exploit. Nevertheless, this was still a major and risky decision, for the store to be opened in the district of Karaköy would be the first in İstanbul to sell nothing but Baklava, as well as the first outside of Gaziantep to have its own oven. Moreover, competition was not entirely absent: such well-known restaurants as Pandeli and Konya Lezzet Lokantası also offered baklava; indeed, Konyalı sold it not only by portion but by weight as well.
Leaflets were printed for the grand opening on 7 November 1949. Taking the proverb “Can Boğazdan Gelir” (literally, “life comes from sustenance”; analogous to the Biblical “Bread is the staff of life”) as his guiding light, Mustafa Güllü had added börek (savory pastries) to his repertory. More importantly, advertisements continued to appear in newspapers until İstanbul dwellers learned the taste as well address of real baklava. The first advertisements featured a branch of roses (gül) shaped like the first letter of Güllüoğlu, as well as a young lady tasting baklava. The product range was narrow, but varied within its own category: baklava, börek, pistachio paste, and cookies.
Mustafa Güllü recalls the early days of the store, and the way in which they worked to break the prejudices of a public that was only just becoming acquainted with fresh baklava, as follows:
For a few years, we offered free baklava. We even printed leaflets as invitations to taste baklava for free, and passed them out in the street. Baklava cost 5 TL per kilogram. When phone orders came from Taksim, Nişantaşı, or Şişli [all prosperous neighborhoods at the time], we would send them baklava and not charge them for delivery. We also showed advertisements at the Atlas movie theater, as well as taking out print advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and placing billboards in the subway and in trams, in order to introduce the product to the wider public. Our most important advertisements, however, were the testimonials of those who had tasted our baklava.
In 1949, according to the Resmi Sınaî Mülkiyet Gazetesi (Official Gazette of Industrial Property), Atıf Said Güllü of No. 8, Atatürk Boulevard, registered the name “Baklavacı Güllüoğlu” and its logo. However, Mustafa Güllü was now playing in another league, and he had started to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He moved his store in 1953, from Halil Pasha Street to No. 23, Havyar Han in Karaköy. During the 1970s, he rented a space below a parking structure in Karaköy, the location where Güllüoğlu has continued to operate to this day. Between the tiny shop on Halil Pasha Street, a windowless space that nevertheless attracted long lines of customers, to the first baklava factory active today, Güllüoğlu’s production has literally amounted to tons of the delectable pastry.
Hacı Mustafa Güllü, a true master who gave new directions to the art of making baklava and who trained many other chefs, passed away on 21 February 2012. Four of his five sons continue to follow in their father’s footsteps. His oldest son Nejat Güllü had left the company in 1983, and another son, Faruk Güllü, did so in 1993, both in order to continue in the same line of business, but on their own. The brothers Nadir and Ömer Güllü remained at their father’s side in Karaköy. The former is now both Chairman of the Board and himself a baklava chef; with his brother Ömer and children Ebru Güllü Abanoz, Tuğba Güllü Sürmeli, and Murat Güllü, he continues the family tradition.
When the subject of baklava comes up in Turkey, journalists first rush to Karaköy. The firm Karaköy Güllüoğlu continues to sell its traditional products while at the same time drawing customers with new and creative desserts. Nadir Güllü’s vision for introducing baklava to the world brought the company’s name to Japan’s magazine Elle and to the U.S. newspapers Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. In addition, Güllüoğlu has been promoting and exporting its products for some sixty-five years. Nadir Güllü mentions how, in addition to conventional exports, ships sailing past İstanbul have for decades slowed down while traversing the Bosphorus in order to purchase baklava, which is delivered to them —in accordance, needless to say, with the appropriate foreign trade regulations.
It is hardly surprising that such a source of delight would have had, among its dedicated customers, a poet, writer, and playwright like Yusuf Ziya Ortaç. Indeed, many are the gourmet intellectuals who have listed Karaköy Güllüoğlu as among “İstanbul’s ageless tastes.” With tens of expertly trained chefs, Karaköy Güllüoğlu continues to cater to its vast clientele and will certainly continue to conquer the hearts of generation after generation thanks to artisans and managers from its own family.
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