Will Istanbul’s historic restaurant rise from its ashes again?

Will Istanbul’s historic restaurant rise from its ashes again?

One of Istanbul’s iconic names, the 115-year-old famous Pandeli Restaurant situated in the Spice Bazaar has been closed for the last three months. 

Restoration works that have been going on for a long time in the Spice Bazaar and the crisis which hit the tourism sector negatively, have removed the oxygen from this famous turquoise-tiled restaurant. 

While we as residents of Istanbul were wondering what the future of Pandeli would be, an indispensable part of the city’s history and culture, we heard from the owner’s granddaughter Sofia Çobanoğlu in Athens, where she now lives. I was able to listen to the story of this famous venue from its third generation owner. She said, “Our family is originally from Cappadocia. My grandfather Pandeli Çobanoğlu left Niğde to start a new life in Istanbul. He worked at various restaurants, then opened his own in 1901. His restaurant at Unkapanı quickly gained fame among writers, poets and politicians.” 

Mustafa Kemal became one of the regulars. Imagine; Atatürk held the first peace talks with Eleftherios Venizelos, the prime minister of Greece at the time, at Pandeli Restaurant. 

 “However, the Pandeli Restaurant was extremely damaged during the Sept. 6 - 7, 1955 incidents. “My grandfather was offended; he sulked and isolated himself. In those years, my father had graduated from the Istanbul Medical School and was preparing to go to the U.S. The governor of Istanbul then, who was also a doctor, Fahrettin Kerim Gökay stepped in and convinced my father to stay. Other state officials as well as [Celal] Bayar and [Adnan] Menderes also supported him, and the Pandeli Restaurant rose from its ashes in Eminönü in the Spice Bazaar.” 

In 1964, the restaurant, also known as “a la Pandeli” took another blow; while its unique recipes and creations were heard abroad. When Greek passport holders were demanded to leave the country, the Çobanoğlu family had to go to Athens even though they did not want to. 

His grandfather had difficulty living in Athens and returned to Istanbul to live until he died. Sofia Çobanoğlu said her father had to shuttle between Athens and Istanbul and manage the business with a partner here. 

“We are from Istanbul. We were born into one of the biggest cultures in the world. It is our duty to make these cultures survive. With this in mind, we challenged all the difficulties. We never had commercial concerns. For instance, in the historic Spice Bazaar, we do not have a dinner service. We never considered moving to a more modern place.” 

“Although I’m a chemical engineer, I inherited Pandeli’s responsibilities from my father. I am third generation. With its memories, the restaurant is more or less like a museum. I want it to live on.”

In the name of sustaining Istanbul’s history, culture and its traditions coming from the Byzantium-Ottoman line, Sofia Çobanoğlu calls on everybody to protect Pandeli. 

She believes that maybe the restoration work ongoing in the Spice bazaar will cause Pandeli to rise from its ashes one more time. 

Pandeli Restaurant, as Çobanoğlu reminds, is one of the 100-year-old trademarks of Turkey. We should not be saying farewell to our historic symbols when there are only about 30 of them left.