It was at a dinner at Mikla, one of Istanbul’s fanciest restaurants, that we identified a turning point in this city’s restaurant culture, one which might finally favor the informal, traditional and often overlooked local eateries that are the heart, soul and lovely underbelly of this city. In one brief description of an appetizer it was noted that the butter used was sourced from Beşiktaş Kaymakçı. Pando’s butter at Mikla? Worlds collided.
Reading those words, we pictured a future when heavily endowed chefs, like Mikla’s Mehmet Gürs, champion small, local producers like Pando – a dairyman who is one of Istanbul’s most celebrated makers of kaymak – and by doing so ensure the longevity of those small, fragile businesses. At that moment, we were sure that Pando, at least, was protected.
Though Pando – who has earned the love and respect of generations of İstanbullu with a full lifetime of slinging dairy goodness from the same shop in Beşiktaş – may be an institution, he is also a renter. His father was a renter before him, since 1895. The secret to a good kaymak business might be the wealth passed down through generations of his family, but the inheritance included the burden of a landlord-tenant relationship. And this summer, an eviction notice came.
We recently visited Pando’s little shop in the Beşiktaş market to learn more about the situation. We found 92-year-old Pandelli Shestakof, better known as Pando, sitting near the service counter and reveling in memories of the place he has spent his entire life, the neighborhood he was born and raised in. “As a boy, I met Atatürk here in Beşiktaş once. He spoke to me,” said Pando. Fast-forward 30 years. He patted the shattered corner of a marble counter: “This is my reminder of September 6 and 7 [1955, when nationalist violence aimed at minority businesses raged through the neighborhood].” Pando’s shop was looted, the counter broken. He cleaned up, glued the broken pieces together and life went on. Even after it became impossible for him to keep his herd of water buffalo, which had been kept by his family in a pasture in Emirgan since Ottoman times, Pando kept making kaymak from the water buffalo milk of others. His shop was always full of approving customers. On the walls of the shop are photos of Pando’s befezzed forebears and drawings of his cows, framed newspaper clippings featuring Pando sent in from around the world. The interior space of the shop is as much a part of the legacy as the delicious clotted cream covered in honey or even the man himself. The three are inseparable.
Accompanied by lawyer/journalist Berk Çektir, who writes a legal advice column for the English-language paper Today’s Zaman, we quickly got down to the day’s news. The owner of the narrow two-story shop where Pando’s business has been located for almost 120 years wishes to evict and turn the space into a fast-food snack shop (or büfe). Pando has been given until August 15 to vacate. At a quick glance, Berk Bey regretfully admitted that the eviction looked legal. “This is not a pure legal issue,” he said. “This is a question of preserving cultural heritage. This place must continue, somehow.”
Pando shrugged and grinned. Yuanna, his wife and business partner, laughed cynically and moved on to a story about pretty young tourists posing for pictures with Pando that morning. Pando chuckled and waved her off. They’ve now seen it all, it would seem.
Pando’s eviction is not one of those messy municipally sponsored projects that have shuttered other Istanbul institutions, like İnci Pastanesi. It is the will of one landlord to replace Pando’s kaymak shop with an enterprise selling gum, cigarettes and hot dogs swimming in red goop. According to a representative from the family, E.M., who has requested that the family name not be used at this time, the evacuation of Pando’s shop stems from an urgent need to renovate this 19th-century storefront. The family’s ultimate concern is with saving the structure, and not necessarily Pando’s business. “After the renovation, we can sit down with Pando and discuss it,” he said. On the deadline of August 15, he said, “I will not send trucks over to empty the place. This is not our family’s style.” But about the chance of an extension, E.M. stated that renovation plans were already in the works and could not easily be postponed. “We are at the end here,” he said.
Pando and his wife are not getting any younger, and there is no next generation to take the family business over, so the kaymak shop is likely going to die with him. But considering everything Pando has been through and what he has offered the neighborhood and beyond, he should be allowed to finish up on his own terms (not that Pando had any plans to go – in fact, he told us that if given an extension on his lease, he would happily keep running the place as is). We believe there is still time to persuade the landlords that their büfe may be a worthy venture – but not at the expense of this Istanbul institution. If you’d like to join us in support of Pando, by all means, come on by for a kaymak as soon as possible.
(photos by Yigal Schleifer)
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