MERE WEEKS AGO, Bistro Antalya, the tiny, tangerine-and-blueberry-Popsicle-colored deli tucked away inside a Broadway minimart, was the place on Capitol Hill—hell, in Seattle, period—to get authentic Turkish specialties like doner kebap (spit-roasted lamb and beef tucked with herbs and yogurt sauce inside a pillowy Turkish pide bread), mucver (zucchini pancakes), and Turkish eggplant panini. But this week, the usually bustling Antalya (chosen as one of Seattle Weekly's 100 favorite restaurants in last week's Eat Out guide) was darkened and still, its three bar stools sitting empty amid the din of patrons buying cigarettes and six-packs at the Broadway Grocery. On the window and counter were signs informing patrons that the sandwich shop would be "temporarily closed until further notice."
The reason for the bistro's unexpected closure is the sudden detention of Bulent Ertur, the ebullient owner/chef/operator, by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). According to a customer who was present when the INS arrived, a group of agents came into the bistro one morning about two weeks ago and began interrogating Ertur about his passport; within a couple of minutes, "I looked up and he was sitting in a van out on Broadway," the customer, David Edwards, says. "That's when I realized he might be in some trouble."
Ertur's attorney, Bart Stroup, was unwilling to discuss the particulars of his client's case, except to characterize it as "very complex"; and his niece and biggest advocate, Chidem Cherrier, will say only that he was detained because of a "pending immigration case" having to do with his green card. She continues, "They're after anybody and everybody, even if you have a green card. He has no criminal background, and they treated him like a fugitive."
His niece says Ertur hardly fit the profile of a fugitive from justice. According to Cherrier and the restaurant's Web site, in 1980 the restaurateur moved from Turkey to Berlin, where he taught high-school physics for 10 years. In 1984, while still a physics teacher, he opened a German-Mediterranean restaurant called Akatlar, where he learned to make pide (a Turkish flatbread), French bread, and the marinated and roasted doner kebap. In the mid-1990s, Ertur moved to Seattle; a year and a half ago, he opened Bistro Antalya in an inauspicious corner of the Capitol Hill minimart, where he worked to build his clientele one customer at a time. "He had not one customer when he started," Cherrier says. "He worked so hard to bring that restaurant from nothing. Things were just finally starting to go well for him," she says, when the INS came and took him away. Indeed, fans of Ertur's authentic Turkish food had become a fiercely loyal bunch; lately, there's been talk of starting a letter-writing campaign on his behalf. "You wouldn't believe the response I got from people wanting to help," Cherrier says.
But these days, she says, things look worse than grim for the bistro, which has been closed since Ertur was taken away. "Every day he's not there, he's losing money," she says. "He's not generating any business. All of his life savings are gone." No one else is trained to run Antalya, because Ertur oversaw every aspect of the business—from making the chewy pide to serving customers to closing out the till at the end of the day. Now he's stuck in a detention cell 60 miles outside Port Angeles.
Edwards, who'd eaten at Bistro Antalya several times, calls Ertur's case another example of heavy-handed law enforcement by the INS. "All bets are off after Sept. 11—the rules have changed."
But Ertur's lawyer says a rash of high-profile immigration busts does not an epidemic make. "All you have to do is go to an airport or cross the border to know that the procedures are much tighter," Stroup acknowledges. But after spending a day at a seminar with immigration and federal government attorneys, Stroup says he found that, "interestingly, there has not been a surge" in immigration roundups. "The number of cases is stable," he says.