Authenticity is Everything

There is one thing about our business that we stick to, regardless of the circumstances, which is our authenticity.  We want everything from the taste of our cookies to the photos on our social media accounts to be true to what we really are.  The longer we are in this business, the more I find that that same value of authenticity is not a shared one. With filters on Instagram, free stock photos online, and blog posts that you can buy from a website, it’s hard to find what is truly what it seems to be.

My mom and I have always talked about this. We want our cookies to be the authentic taste of our family. We want our websites to show the true product that we are serving our customers and we also want to be honest with our customers about who we are, why we are starting our business, and how we are doing it.

Last night my husband and I went out to eat, which is a splurge for us, but this whole thing about authenticity hit us right in the face and ended up leaving us incredibly disappointed. Here’s what happened:

Yesterday I saw an advertisement on Facebook for a local restaurant that was serving Lahmacun, ,(pronounced Lah-ma-joon)  which most people call  Turkish Pizza, but it’s actually nothing like pizza so I have no idea why they call it that., other than to make foreigners more familiar with their food. But that’s a total sidebar.  The advertisement looked appetizing, and I was really excited to try it out.

I had the night off from work, so we decided to go out to eat and enjoy the evening.

My husband lived in Turkey for 10 years, and I lived there for three, so Turkey is a big part of our lives. It’s where we met, it’s where we got married, and we will go back many times in the future. So a taste of Turkey was definitely something to look forward to.

What is this food?

Lahmacun is very thin flat bread baked in a large oven with a combination of minced lamb, beef, and spices on top. But that is where the similarity to pizza ends. It is then served with freshly cut tomatoes, cilantro, and lemon, which you then line the middle of the flat bread with, and roll it up like a wrap, here’s a video of a homemade Lahmacun (skip to minute 6 to see how it’s served).  

Lahmacun isn’t just a Turkish dish; it’s also a common recipe in Armenia, Syria and Lebanon. Once you’ve had Lahmacun once, you are hooked. It’s one of the most common street foods in Turkey, along with pide, doner, and tantuni.

It’s a street food.  Sure you can find it in fancy restaurants with higher quality meats and spices, and finer cuts of cilantro and tomatoes, but the basis of it is the commoner’s food.  It’s one of those things that you most likely have once or twice a month if you are living in Turkey, and if you lived there for as long as we did, it was something we definitely missed.

Anyway, back to the story. We headed out that evening as soon as my husband got home from work. We had been to the restaurant once before, when it first opened, and were slightly disappointed with the food, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt because they were just opening up. 

When we got to the restaurant, it was busy, which is always  a good sign. We sat down and opened the menus. They had increased their prices. Not a problem, we thought. Maybe they need to in order to keep the business open, Tucson is a competitive restaurant scene.

We ordered Lahmacun, lamb kebab, an Efes beer, and a Raki. We wanted the whole Turkish experience. Politics aside, Efes and Raki are the national drinks of Turkey.  

The drinks came first. My beer wasn’t a problem, I mean it’s a beer. It’s served the same internationally. But then they brought the out the Raki, and it all went downhill from there. Not only was nothing served in the traditional manner, the wait staff didn’t even understand what was on the menu.

If you’ve visited Turkey you might not notice. However, when you have lived in Turkey and are coming in from an advertisement that states they have “Authentic Turkish food”, then it is devastating when you are actually being served a Turkish-American fusion dish instead. If they had been forthcoming about it, and marketed themselves as such I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.

And then we went on to their website

When my husband and I got home we half wanted to just forget the whole thing, and half wanted to make an actual complaint.

I logged on to their website to see if there was a way to send a private comment. I know they weren’t maliciously trying to be authentically Turkish, but there were a few things that I thought they should know .

The website is aesthetically pleasing, and well done. It has their menu, their family story, and the basic hours, location, and contact us page. They have great photos of their restaurant, of their food, and a page about who they are.

But then I looked closer.

All the photos were stock photos.

All. The. Photos.

The photos of their restaurant, of their food, of their staff, everything. Of course I wouldn’t know that until I actually went to the restaurant to see that they don’t have large windows looking out on a high-rise (even though I probably should have guessed since Tucson doesn’t have an high-rise buildings). 

They even gave themselves the title of “Best in Tucson” even though they have only been open for a few months. They are the only Turkish-style restaurant so I guess they win that one on a technicality.

They proved their authority on Turkish food, with the fact that their family member was a butcher in Istanbul for over 40 years. Which to anyone reading would think that is a qualifying attribute. But at closer look at their family name, it seems that they aren’t Turkish.

Long story short about their website, I wish I hadn’t seen it. Because now I was even more disappointed.

Why does it matter?

This isn’t just a rant post. And I’m not giving the name of the restaurant because I honestly don’t mean any harm to their business. But it matters. It’s important, and here’s why.

Marketing and advertising are difficult, and if anyone tells you differently run from them, as fast as you can. To market and get organic traffic, you have to spend a lot of money and time cultivating your audience and creating a need.

 But of course there are shortcuts. Some companies will do anything to get a customer through the door. I’m not saying that this restaurant did this in malfeasance, but there were some measures at play that could have made the whole experience more positive.

When your customers don’t trust you, you won’t have any customers anymore. When you keep advertising something that you offer, there are only so many times people will try it until they call your bluff. If you are claiming to be an authentic Portuguese restaurant, but then serve all the food in a Mexican-style, that is misleading, to say the least.  

What I’m trying to get at, is be upfront with your customers. If you aren’t Turkish that’s fine! Neither am I! But if I opened a restaurant I would make that known. If you don’t know how a particular dish is served, learn! Youtube is a great thing! You can learn how Raki is served, you can learn how to eat Lahmacun, everything.

People trust an expert. Becoming an expert takes time, money, and a lot of patience. You can cut corners and say whatever you like on the internet, but sooner or later, the truth will come out.

If you are advertising something just to get followers, likes, and mentions, then you are not going to get true followers or customers.  We may not have thousands of followers on our social media channels, and we may not have a million-dollar business, but the customers that we do have, which we appreciate very much, have a connection with us through our cookies.

We bake cookies that are authentic to us and don’t sugar coat it, pun intended. Authenticity is everything to us.