Osgür “Figo” Akcay immigrated to the United States from Turkey in 2001 and now lives in Madison, WI. He is the manager of Gotham Bagels in downtown Madison.
I was going to college in Turkey, and my cousin lived here in U.S. I wasn’t doing really good there, and he said, “Why don’t you try to come here, and if you like it, you can stay here.” Then I decide to try something new, so I move to Madison. And without any English, so it was really hard. I remember the first month I was home by myself until he gets home. It was really hard. Then start learning all the words one by one, and repeating all the time to myself.
Watching TV helped a lot. I was watching the Friends and Right Price…? The Price is Right. I was watching that too, with the caption on, trying to understand the whole thing. I think if you understand first what’s going on, then you probably get the words better. Like the basic words, I probably know like 80% of it. But if you go to politics or stuff, then I don’t know. [laughs]
That was about the same time I learn to cook. The guy, his name was Ricky, and he taught me. I was working at the pizza joint on Bassett Street. Used to call Casa Bianca. I start as a dishwasher because I didn’t speak any English, so that was the only job I found. Then I start to figure it out, all the words. Then he said, “Do you wanna be a cook?” I said yeah. He start teaching me all the simple cooking things. All the sandwiches, all the subs, all the pastas and everything. That was in 2001. So I start from there, and I keep doing it.
I was here in Madison nine years. At 2009 I move to Milwaukee. I stay there about three years. In 2011, I move to Turkey, stay there like a year and a half, and I didn’t like it, and I move back here to Madison. Bring my wife too. I got married in Turkey. Then I was working for her dad at his restaurant. I mean it was six months honeymoon and seven months working for him.
I been living in U.S. here 15 years now, and it just feels like this is my home too. Like, if I go to Turkey now, all my friends they moved or they got married or they do something else, and I have nobody there besides my family. And here I have more friends than in Turkey right now. Especially Madison. I love Madison.
Working in restaurant in Turkey is very different from U.S. In Turkey there is a butcher. You go there, buy your meat. And there’s like a big market, so you just buy vegetables from them. You pick it, whatever you want to pick, and bring it to your restaurant. They don’t have like a big Reinhart or U.S. Foods or anything like that—all small businesses.
I actually like to go buy my own meat. See what I’m getting. And all the vegetable that I’m buying. All the stuff, I see it and then I buy it. But here you just call and you just say, “Hey, I want 40 pounds of chicken.” They just bring the chicken to you, and you don’t see what is in it. And like, if there’s something wrong with it, you just have to return here.
I love going in the summer to the farmers market in Madison, because all the stuffs are fresh and local. It just feels like in Turkey. You just go there and you pay the cash, and you just come back and you use it. Fresh produce.
I think customer service here is better. In the small restaurants in Turkey, if you go to restaurant and you don’t like the food, and if you said to the waiter that your food is not good, they don’t care. And here is totally different. If you go to restaurant and server ask you how do you like your food, you always say, “Good.” But in Turkey if it’s not good, you just say, “It’s not good.” You don’t have to be nice to them, and say it was good. If you go to Turkey and talk to the manager saying your food wasn’t good, he starts saying, “Oh, maybe just you didn’t like it.” People care here more than Turkey.
I like working at Gotham because I don’t really feel like I do a customer service relationship. They are like my family. I know everyone by the name and what they order and everything. And that makes me happy. And for my customers, they actually know about my newborn son, and my wife and everything. It’s just like having a bigger family every day.
But sometimes it’s hard. I try to be always calm, and always be nice to customer. And when I come here, and I try to smile to everybody, and they just look at you, and they don’t even say good morning or anything, and they just have that attitude. That makes me frustrated sometime, because I keep everything at home. I don’t bring it at work. When people start arguing with you about some stupid things, about the stuff that they didn’t get. They just fight with you. They don’t try to help you out to fix the problem. They just try to put you down and try to make you think it’s your mistake, but sometime they do mistake too, and they don’t say that they did a mistake. They just want something free.
But, mostly its good. There is lots of stuff that I like about my job. There’s so many good times. One of the big ones—when my son was born, I saw his name at the specials board in Gotham and it says, “It’s a boy.” That makes me really proud. Like people I work with, they care about me as a family and they enjoy the moment with me at the same time.
There is also some stuff I miss about Turkey. I miss some of the foods. In Turkey, we had a gyro. People call here “gyro,” but we call it “doner.” Just like the same meat, and they have a lamb, ground beef, and tail fat. That’s the only thing I miss here. Nobody use tail fat here for lamb. It’s like, there is a tail part of the lamb, and it’s only fat, and when you cook with the meat, it’s juicy. It makes it so much better. The meat doesn’t get dry, and it’s so more juicy and fatty. Just like having a bacon—fatty.
I miss all the kebabs there in Turkey. Everything over there is homemade. The guy does it in-house over there. They don’t buy it pre-made or anything. I like to try all the fresh food. All the small businesses. When you go to their restaurant, you feel like you’re in your own kitchen. And you know the owner and all about it. And I’m trying to do the same thing here at Gotham. When I work at restaurant, I like to know all my customers, what they do in the work and everything, and I think I’m doing really good on that.
When I work at Gotham, I start making new cream cheese and everything. Like all the stuff from the back home I was doing. Like feta cream cheese. All the eggplant dishes I was doing here. I was proud of those.
Like, first, when I try to do something new, I have to like it. I have to put lot of spices into it, like cumin or fresh dill or lot of parsley or lemon juice. I mean, if I add those I feel like I’m trying something—Turkish food. Pizza is totally different, but I try to make it… I love eggplant, and I do anything with eggplant. And I do eggplant with pesto and tomato and everything. What I learn here, and I mix that stuff with Turkey, and I think I make a good combo with those two.
Another thing about working in U.S., is sometime I think, I wish that English was my first language, I do better with workers. I would have a better communication with them. Or trying to explain myself better, because sometimes I misspeak or misspoke, and they just try to do something else. Then I try to think Turkish sometime and try to speak English, and it just makes it hard for me. That doesn’t help me all the time.
Some people take advantage. If I tell somebody they made a mistake, and they would say to me, “Oh, I thought you told me that. I thought I didn’t understand you.” Or they say, “You misspeaking,” or something. That always goes on their side, not my side, because I don’t think I can explain myself better.
Now I speak Spanish and English, because when I work at restaurant, I was working with lots of Mexican. I was learning English and Spanish at the same time. I know mostly kitchen words in Spanish, and that helps me all the time too if I go to different restaurants. Because, if you go to restaurant, most the people works in all the kitchens are Mexican or Spanish, and if you know any Spanish words it’s always plus for you.
But I like being in restaurant business. I like talking to people. I like serving them, and I would do the same thing again. I just like cooking. I like to learn new stuff. When I came here, at the Gotham Bagels, all the stuff I know is all making sense to me. And I really like doing what I do now.
— Maggie Roovers