It was another Friday night on the Lower East Side, with young bar hoppers spilling out onto East Houston Street in search of their next cocktail. A group of women in nearly identical lacy tank tops rolled their eyes at the catcalls coming from a nearby car, while one man pushed another into a pile of garbage bags, upset over a disrespectful comment.
But some, like Nikki D’Alessendro, were ready to call it a night. As she walked home after a night out with friends, Ms. D’Alessendro said she noticed the bright lights and the meat rotisserie of a Turkish restaurant on the corner of Orchard Street. She realized she was famished, and she walked in.
“I really don’t know where I am,” said Ms. D’Alessendro, a 23-year-old who works in retail. “I’m here because the place was open.”
Besides not noticing the name of the establishment, she also missed the big signs on the windows that said, “Bereket Is Back!”
“I don’t know what that means,” she said, “but I love gyros.” She went with the lamb doner sandwich and ate it at a small table by the front door, entertained by the crowd passing by.
To the current late-night revelers, the sign probably means nothing. But to those who lived and frequented downtown Manhattan in the ’90s, it signals the return of the Bereket Turkish Kabob House, a former all-night stalwart that fed cabdrivers and inebriated customers for nearly 20 years before closing.
And it also signals a rarity in the landscape of New York real estate: A beloved restaurant that shuttered when its neighborhood was gentrified, against incredible odds, actually returned to the block.
Suleyman Turgut and Ramazan Turgut, the two brothers who owned Bereket — which, despite the big sign in the window, is actually called Ankara #3 — are taking a gamble that New Yorkers still have an appetite for late-night meals. When the new place opened in March, the kitchen closed at 4 a.m. But over the summer, the Turgut brothers saw enough bar patrons packing the streets to now keep the eatery open 24 hours, bucking the post-pandemic trend of restaurants paring back their hours.
Their late-night journey began when Haci Turugt, the eldest brother, immigrated to New York in the 1980s, and Suleyman followed in 1990. The two worked at a kebab joint in Greenwich Village until they opened their own shop on East Houston Street in 1995.
At first, Bereket was a sliver of a store with only three small tables. The primary customers were cabbies on a shift change: “We did great business at 5 a.m.,” said Suleyman, 56.
Riding a wave of success, the brothers were able to expand to a larger space on the southeast corner of East Houston and Orchard Streets six years later. It became an extension of the bar scene: Instant friendships were forged as the sun rose, and scuffles would erupt just as quickly.
The restaurant could even break up a romance.
Debbie Tobias, who lived on the Lower East Side during Bereket’s heyday, said she once stopped dating a guy because he disliked the smell of doner meat.
“I knew right there and then he was a one and done,” said Ms. Tobais, an art director who is now 52 and lives in Kensington, Brooklyn. “I could never be with someone who didn’t like Bereket.”
By the time Ramazan, the youngest of the Turgut brothers, immigrated to New York in 2006, business was robust, as the bar scene had exploded in the area. Over the years, the Turguts estimated that they had hired more than 100 immigrants from Turkey and elsewhere, many of whom went to school during the day and worked at night. About 15 of them have opened up their own restaurants nationwide, according to Suleyman.
But then came the bad news, in 2014: Their lease would not be renewed. Almost the entire block of Houston, except for Katz’s Delicatessen, would be razed to build a new condominium building. It was peak gentrification, and the brothers weren’t able to secure a new space that was financially sound.
Gutted, the brothers went their separate ways. Haci and Suleyman returned to Turkey; Ramazan stayed in New York. The youngest Turgut opened a restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and when that closed after a few years, he worked as a manager at a few other eateries for other owners, but nothing seemed to match the magic of Bereket.
Then, in 2019, Suleyman’s daughter had been accepted to college in New York. Tired of working for others, Ramazan persuaded his older brother to follow his daughter and revive Bereket in central Brooklyn to target a different clientele, or the new immigrants from Central Asia that had settled in Kensington and Midwood.
The pandemic was an unexpected boon for delivery orders, which skyrocketed. Then, as the city’s nightlife woke from its slumber, several cabdrivers told the Turguts that there was an empty storefront on Houston. It was right across the street from where Bereket used to be.
The brothers jumped on it, and their timing looks canny. Late-night spending, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., in the city is 11 percent higher than prepandemic levels, according to aggregated spending trends analyzed by Mastercard Economics Institute. And there are more than 500 bars and restaurants serving alcohol in the Lower East Side and East Village, according to State Liquor Authority data.
But as the brothers court a new generation of customers, where 3 a.m. is their new peak hour, nostalgia keeps the older clientele returning.
One weekday afternoon, Olcay Dikbiyik found herself eating a doner kebab. She was a regular Bereket customer when she lived in Queens, but now lived in Marco Island, Fla. Yet as soon as she arrived in the city with her family for a weekend getaway, her first internet search was to determine whether Bereket was still open.
“We got off the flight, checked into the hotel, and came straight here,” said Ms. Dikbiyik, 45.
Ramazan, who spoke to Ms. Dikbiyik and her family as she ate a late lunch, beamed. “It’s wonderful that they came back.”
“I can’t tell you how many people have walked in crying, hugging us,” said Ramazan. “I feel it in my heart. It feels great.”