Closer to the People

By: Amanda Epperson and Jami Sall

If you are planning a vacation to Istanbul anytime in the near future, there is a good chance you might cross paths with a 28 year old Turkish man who manages a spice shop in Istanbul’s famous spice bazaar. His name is Mendo, and he has managed Helal Baharat Spice Center for nearly five years now. Recently, I got to sit down and listen to Mendo tell his story about where he is now, and what it’s like to meet new people every day from all around the world. One thing was clear from the start of our conversation, Mendo isn’t just an ambitious business man, but he is a relational, trustworthy person who does business with much pride and honor.

In his early twenties, Mendo graduated from college with a public relations degree. Most public relations majors secure a job with the government, but Mendo never really desired that. Instead he wanted to be “closer to the people.” He couldn’t stand the thought of sitting behind a desk all day, but rather desired to work with people directly. Most locals don’t speak other languages outside of Turkish, but Mendo isn’t your normal Turk. His English is perfect, and he speaks a few other languages, making it easy for Mendo to work with tourist.

Mendo ran his first business in his early 20’s, that’s right, I said his early 20’s! He had just graduated from college and was looking for work. His father frequented a cafe near Taksim, one of Istanbul’s popular tourist destinations, and heard the owner wanted to sell the cafe. He immediately mentioned it to Mendo, and encouraged him to buy it, bringing him a step closer to his dream of “being closer to the people.” He managed and ran this cafe for two years. This was a great starting place for him to gain experience and learn much about running a business. One thing he learned is that running a business can be expensive, and quickly realized that most of the money being made was going right back into the business. At the end of his lease, while deciding whether to renew again, his uncle who owned a store in the Spice Bazaar was opening a second store, and offered him the job of managing it. As Mendo talked about his uncle, I could see how alike they are. They both speak several languages, they love managing businesses, and they both work as hard as they need in order to support their families. I sensed their closeness when he mentioned he prays for his uncle every day.

Mendo has managed his uncle’s spice store for 5 years now. He has met countless people from several different countries. Some of his customers have become his close friends. He has even traveled with them to their home countries in order to learn more about other cultures, and in the end be “closer to the people.”

The lease will be expiring in three months and Mendo is not sure if the lease will be renewed, or if he will explore other business opportunities. No matter what comes next for Mendo, he believes his business life will always help him live a life that is “close to the people.”