The Turkish Takeover of New York Pizzeria Cucina Bene​​​​​​​

 
 Photo by Morgan Chittum

Photo by Morgan Chittum

It was freshman year. I had $35 in my bank account, and no idea how to cook for myself. I ventured with my roommate down Exchange Place hoping my card wouldn’t get declined wherever we’d end up for dinner. We noticed a bright colored sign that read, “Weekday Special. Two slices of cheese pizza with a small drink for $4.99.”

Overcome with anticipation for a meal that wasn’t worth more than my savings, I eagerly approached the small Cucina Bene Pizza. I heard lunch orders being yelled in Turkish, watched a grandfather holding his grandson and bussing tables, and soccer fans crowded around a flat screen, while a couple in the back prepared arguably the most popular pizza in the Financial District.

 Photo by Morgan Chittum

Photo by Morgan Chittum

In 1996, in high school, Colleen Mitchell and Michael Alkan met each other while working at a pizzeria in Long Island, Cucina Bene Pizza. Alkan had just moved to America from Istanbul, Turkey to pursue what his wife terms the “American dream.”

They began dating, and six months later, Alkan proposed.

“It was love at first sight,” Alkhan said.

In 1997, the owner of Cucina Bene, which Alkan has left anonymous, abruptly left, leaving Alkan in charge. The couple took the responsibility on full force, determined to make their newly-owned pizzeria a success. They worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for four years until they were financially able to begin hiring other employees. The business grew, expanding to a second location in Long Island and eventually, a third one in lower Manhattan in 2004.

Since taking over the pizza store in Long Island, the couple has had two kids, Aiydan and Jaylen. Now at 39-years-old, Mrs. Alkan admits, “No, I never saw myself owning a pizzeria here. We have owned businesses before, but Manhattan has always been our dream. I am glad we are still here. I don’t want to go anywhere. I like to make good money. I like to make my customers happy.”

 

Cucina Bene is located at 41 Exchange Place in the Financial District