Orange For the sizeable population of Turkish Americans living in Connecticut, satisfying a craving for certain native delicacies means driving about 90 miles to a bakery in Paterson, New Jersey.
To make the roughly two-hour trip worthwhile, Turkish travelers would stock up on their favorite treats and transport the goods back home, storing them in a freezer to be enjoyed later. While the allure of those Garden State establishments is their authentic, freshly-made food, having to stash the products in a freezer spoiled their freshness.
But it was a price that many Turkish residents eager for a nostalgic bite said they were willing to pay. Until this year.
Opened in March, Saray Bakery and Ice Cream Cafe at 108 Boston Post Road in Orange has offered a taste of home for the local Turkish community, serving a handful of authentic Turkish foods prepared on-site. The bakery’s owner said it is the first of its kind in the state, filling a void for the large contingent of Turkish residents who can now conveniently connect with their culture without sacrificing food quality.
Since immigrating to the United States from Turkiye in 2010, Tarik Saray, the bakery’s owner, has operated a Mister Softee ice cream truck. But during his time here, the West Haven resident said he has noticed a lack of food establishments selling fresh Turkish cuisine.
While other Turkish eateries exist in the area, they mostly prepare frozen foods imported from Turkiye, Saray said. Given the large population of Turks in Connecticut, Saray said he wanted to start a business that embodied his Turkish culture in a more authentic way.
Saray said his bakery is unique in that it is the only Turkish bakery in Connecticut to prepare everything from scratch.
“The area needed a place like that,” Ahmet Kangal, Saray’s cousin, said. “Even the feel is different when they make it fresh.”
According to Kangal, Connecticut has a Turkish population of roughly 5,000 to 6,000 people many of whom live in West Haven making the state one of the largest concentrations of Turks in the north east. The latest U.S. Census data shows about 203,000 Turkish Americans in the country, with the largest concentrations appearing in New Jersey, New York, and California.
“Before it was maybe a thousand (Turkish) people in Connecticut and not too many families – nobody cares,” Kangal said. “Now this is a need.”
Saray’s Bakery and Ice Cream Cafe offers an assortment of breads and pastries, including baklava, a layered pastry dessert that is among the store’s most popular items. “There’s baklava in the United States, but only this store has it fresh,” Saray said.
The hybrid bakery and cafe also does breakfast, serving several types of Turkish dishes to customers who can either dine indoors or take the food to go. Last week, the bakery hosted members from the Orange Chamber of Commerce for a holiday breakfast.
“Tarik put out a Turkish breakfast spread fit for royalty and everything was delicious!” the group wrote on Facebook.
Dessert is available, too, with nine different kinds of cake, pudding and Mister Softee ice cream, among other tasty options.
The food is prepared by several professional chefs who Saray said he plucked from Turkish factories so they could join his business. Each chef specializes in making a certain food pastries, baklava, breakfast, and, hopefully soon, someone who can make Turkish pizza, according to the owner.
University of Connecticut student Hatice Bozan, who is of Turkish descent, said she enjoys visiting Saray Bakery because it reminds her of her family’s home country. Before the bakery opened, the area was bereft of any Turkish bakeries selling freshly-made goods, Bozan said.
To get their fix, she said, her parents would make the trek to New Jersey and buy large quantities of Turkish food to store in the freezer. When the food was eventually served, though, “it wouldn’t be as fresh when we were eating it,” she added.
“This place is full of fresh food so we can have it warm,” Bozan said.
Standing outside the store dressed in a head scarf, Bozan said she frequently orders “acma,” a type of soft bagel, and a cup of Turkish tea, which can be hard to come by in Connecticut. The process for preparing Turkish tea is a specific one, involving multiple pots and fresh black tea leaves, and “if you don’t make it right, Turkish people can understand that it’s wrong.”
Esma Fera, a University of New Haven student from Albania, said that Saray Bakery provides her a level of comfort because the food is similar to the cuisine back home.
“The traditional food that I eat in my home country as an international student is similar to the Turkish culture,” Fera said. “So when I come here I get the feeling that I’m at home.”
Fera said her favorite thing to order is borek, a large Turkish pastry twisted into the shape of a pretzel and filled with either ground beef, potatoes, or feta cheese. Borek is also a hot seller, Saray said.
Saray Bakery has become a popular destination for non-Turkish residents too, Saray said. According to him, the bakery’s customer base is about 30% American, with some other backgrounds sprinkled in there as well, such as Greek, Russian, and Arabic. He said he’s also hoping that more people will visit his bakery once the nearby Julia’s Bakery closes at the end of the year.
After moving to the U.S from Turkiye about a year ago, Gamze Thomas, 31, said she has been in search of places selling good Turkish cuisine, recently discovering Saray Bakery through an Instagram post. When she saw that the bakery served muhlama – a breakfast staple from Turkiye’s Black Sea region – she decided to see if Saray’s version could hold up against her high standards.
“Not everybody can make it in a tasty way, so when I saw it on the menu, I thought I would go and try it,” Thomas said, adding that it was her first time eating muhlama in America because “I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Sitting at a cafe table on a recent weekday, Thomas said she rarely buys Turkish pastries or desserts now because they don’t compare to the quality of those foods back home. But finding Saray Bakery has reinvigorated her appetite.
“Bakery stuff tastes different in Turkiye,” Thomas said. “When I found out that this place has bakery and breakfast stuff, it was just heaven for me. I ran here.”