Customers rallying behind soon-to-be-evicted Istanbul Grille | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Customers rallying behind soon-to-be-evicted Istanbul Grille

Eatery being forced out for convenience-store expansion

Coskun Gokalp works at Istanbul Grille.
Coskun Gokalp works at Istanbul Grille.

Coskun Gokalp — known as "Josh" to his customers — won' t let you leave hungry. 

"You' re too thin!" the owner of the Downtown Istanbul Grille told me, weeks ago when it was just his Turkish specialties and not his story drawing me in. He piled my container, the "meat dish," high with chickpea salad, kisir and dolma; far more than I suspect the $8 price tag covered. 

That' s Josh, says Jen Meyercheck, a regular. She, too, has often benefited from his generosity.

"His food is his passion, and it is totally evident," says Meyercheck. Now she — and many of his customers — are organizing to show how much they care. 

Gokalp' s month-to-month lease is up after five years at 643 Liberty Ave. He received notice that he must move; the 7-Eleven convenience store next door is expanding. 

In response, Meyercheck launched a "Save the Istanbul Grille" Facebook page that has driven recent lines outside the restaurant that snake around the corner, and grabbed the attention of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the city' s presumptive mayoral-elect, Bill Peduto. All are trying to find a way to help Gokalp remain Downtown. 

"He' s the picture of diversity in the middle of the Cultural District," Meyercheck says, adding that local businesses are also valuable. "They are what make Pittsburgh unique." 

No date for the eviction is set. The building' s representatives are still negotiating with the national chain, says Jim Lamanna, NDC Real Estate Management' s director of real estate.

Gokalp, 45, moved to the U.S. from Istanbul, Turkey, in 1998 to pursue the "American Dream." He is reluctant to move his restaurant not, he says, because he is worried about the cost of relocating or paying higher rent. (He owns two other restaurants, in Lawrenceville and in Ross Township.) 

What worries him most is any break that takes him away from feeding his Downtown customers each day.  

"It' s not easy to build customers," he says. 

Meyercheck says she hopes the support generated encourages Gokalp and reassures him that they' ll follow. 

"At the end of the day, if he has to leave the Liberty Avenue store, he has a whole community behind him," she says. "We don' t want [him] to quit, to close up shop." 

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