There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
When couples wed, they often come away with his and hers bathrobes, wine glasses, or towels monogrammed with their brand new initials. But newlyweds Koray and Sahar Bozkurt, who married in Turkey in July 2015, are doubling down on their commitment with his and hers businesses in Ivy City.
Koray chose the developing Northeast D.C. neighborhood to launch his Turkish fast-casual chainlet, Pidzza, which opened on Jan. 4 and pays homage to his home country. He selected a 2,500-square-foot space at 2004 Hecht Ave. NE, determined to split it in two.
First, he wanted to open a restaurant and bar next to Pidzza, but when developer Matthew Jemal of Douglas Development shook his head at the thought, he turned to his wife. She had a dream, too—opening Sip & Dry. The glitzy salon-meets-bar pairs blowouts with cocktails, and yearns to be the set for a Sex in the City comeback.
Though Koray’s hair is too short to benefit from a professional blow-dry, he did enough research to feel comfortable backing his wife as what he calls “her sponsor,” or silent partner. “During the last two or three years, I’ve been learning, checking out places,” he says. “I really trust her with all this, but I’d hesitate to invest big money if I didn’t see a future in it too.”
Koray’s business opened first. Pidzza fuses traditional pizza with boat-shaped Turkish pides. “It’s much healthier than other pizza places,” Koray says. “With our signature ones, we use no sauce and minimal cheese.” Because the specialized dough (made in-house daily) is so thin, sauce would cause the pidzzas to get soggy.
Customers can build their own, but there are also suggestions, like “The Brekkie” with candied bacon, baby spinach, Gruyere cheese, and two sunny side up eggs. (Take cover when those eggs burst, the yolks flow like lava.) Pidzza also serves salads like the “Roka” with baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, red onion, green lentil, fresh tofu, and pomegranate-sumac lemon juice.
The Ivy City location of Pidzza is just the beginning for Koray, who is also an owner at Desperados Burgers & Bar on U Street NW. A second location of Pidzza will open in early February at 1115 U Street NW in the former Subway. Then, towards the end of the month, a third location will open on Sixth Street NW in Chinatown.
“I wanted to start somewhere that’s not that busy,” Koray says, adding that rents are still cheaper in Ivy City than other neighborhoods. “Low overhead costs allow me to make my product better before jumping to other places.”
Koray hopes Pidzza (with prices that top out at $10) will be a gathering place for the Ivy City community while it’s grappling with intense change. To cement this desire, he’s introducing a “suspended pizza” program in February. It’s modeled after the Italian concept of suspended coffee that made its way to the rest of Europe, including Turkey, in which customers front cups of coffee for perfect strangers.
At Pidzza, customers can ask to tack on a little extra to their bill—say $1 or 50 cents—that will go towards funding a free pizza. Those who donate can even write a message on the Pidzza box that will eventually go to someone in need, someone who forgot their wallet, or someone who’s simply having a shit day. “When you come in, you can see if there are any boxes in the suspended pile and ask the employee to give it to you,” Koray explains.
Ten days after Koray opened his first Pidzza location, Sahar held the grand opening of Sip & Dry. Like her husband, she kept the bones of the space, but she stained a pillar pink and painted one wall in a striped pattern giving it the hard and soft qualities of industrial chic design.
Customers enter and choose from a menu of blowout styles, each paired with a specific cocktail. The “Sue Ellen,” for example, leaves ladies with big bouncy curls and comes with a Julep-impersonating drink called “The Whiskey Slap.”
Then there’s the “São Paula,” which marries a Brazilian blowout with a South American, cachaça-based cocktail called a Caipirinha. Each blow-dry and cocktail pairing costs $48 before tax and tip. Guests are free to mix and match cocktails and hairstyles, and there’s also beer and wine. The bar typically stays open a couple hours later than the last blowout appointment.
While Drybar pours complimentary bubbly, Sahar says Sip & Dry is the only business in the D.C. area with both a salon license and a full liquor license. Sahar conceptualized the cocktails, but her sister Shabby Bakhtary helps implement them. Infusions are the focal point of the cocktail list. Sip & Dry’s bar has house-made pear and ginger-infused vodka, mint-infused whiskey, and pineapple-infused vodka, to name a few.
“I wanted to bring healthy ingredients so at least there’s something fresh,” she says of her fresh fruit infusions and purées. “Even when I eat, there has to be one fresh aspect, that’s how I was raised. We never ate a meal without a salad.”
Sahar was born in Afghanistan in 1984. A year later Russia invaded her country. “We were refugees in Pakistan for a couple of years, then my grandfather was able to sponsor us and we moved to Falls Church [Virginia],” she explains. Her mother is a hairstylist and so is her aunt. “Actually all of my Afghan friends, their moms are hairstylists—it’s a very Afghan thing,” Sahar explains.
She’s grateful to her parents for setting her up for success. “When my parents came to this country, my dad only had $35 in his pocket, four kids, and a wife,” she says. Pointing to the Sip & Dry space, she continues, “I look at this now, and think, ‘You guys did something right.’ I can’t take credit for this—I am who I am because of their sacrifices.”
Likewise, her family is in awe that she’s a small business owner at age 33. Her dad loves all but one thing about Sip & Dry. “He’s like, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have done the bar thing.’ And my mom has never had a drink in her life. But other than that they’re proud.”
Sahar wasn’t willing to sacrifice the cocktail side of her business despite her family’s strict views about alcohol. “The beauty industry is supposed to be fun—it’s too fussy and structured, I don’t like that,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with getting your hair done and going out and being a little trashed when you get there.”
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