A group of Turkish investors is hoping to make simit, a favorite bread of the Balkans, the trendiest starch in New York City.
The group, led by Istanbul-based restaurant management company Yemekhane, has opened two locations of Simit + Smith, featuring the bread in its traditional bagel-like ring shape, as well as in loaves suitable for making sandwiches. The first location, which also will serve as a commissary for future restaurants, opened in November in the suburb of Cliffside, N.J. The second unit opened on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in December.
Construction is underway for restaurants in Manhattan’s Financial District and Tribeca, both of which are slated to open in the first quarter of 2013. The conglomerate’s goal is to have 20 locations in the area by 2015.
Simit is traditionally a simple bread made from water, yeast, flour and salt. It’s hand-shaped into logs and then twisted into rings. The rings are then soaked in molasses for 5 to 10 minutes and then dipped in sesame seeds before being baked. Simit + Smith's simit are parbaked in its Cliffside location and then shipped to the other restaurants where they are finished.
The chain offers the traditional variety, using white flour, as well as whole wheat and multigrain versions, each available for $1.99 each. The multigrain version is coated in poppy seeds, oats, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, bulgur and rye.
Simit + Smith is betting on sandwiches as the main vehicle for selling the bread, although it's traditionally eaten plain or dipped in tea and eaten with cheese, according to Vanessa Vardon, vice president of business development and marketing for the restaurant. Currently those sandwiches include bagel-style offerings, including a $2.49 simit and cream cheese, or simit with salmon, red onion and cream cheese for $7.99, as well as Eastern Mediterranean-inspired fillings such as hummus, for $3.99, black olive paste and kasseri cheese for the same price, and feta, tomato and cubanelle pepper for $4.99.
Chicken with roasted red pepper and provolone, and roast beef with Dijon mustard, arugula and Gruyère, are also offered for $6.99 each. Breakfast sandwiches are available for $3.99, spread either with Nutella and banana or peanut butter and a choice of strawberry or fig jam.
The beverage program at Simit + Smith includes American-style and Turkish coffee and tea, natural sodas, juices, and sparkling and still bottled water.
Vardon said she is working to shape the restaurant as a “fit, healthy, foodie, adventurous concept,” with a focus on the artisanal quality of simit. “We have two chefs and two rolling styles,” she added.
The downtown Manhattan locations also will offer retail products that reflect the chain’s Balkan theme and/or artisanal focus, including olive oil and Turkish delight.
Vardon also said she’s hoping to offer wholesale simit but added that the chain wouldn’t add preservatives to the bread to facilitate it.
Currently she said the Upper West Side location, which opened last month, is doing fairly well, with an average of around 250 guests per day and an average per-person check of around $8.
Vardon said that once 20 restaurants are open in New York the company would consider expanding to Washington, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and other areas with large Turkish and Balkan communities — “Wherever Turkish Airlines flies,” she said.
The Turkish parent companies will fund the expansion, Vardon said, noting that they don’t plan to franchise.
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