The world comes through Moab – and sometimes it stays and opens a restaurant.
Devran Cengiz came from Istanbul, Turkey, to Moab because he likes to hike and ride mountain bikes. His dream of running his own restaurant came with him, and on Friday, March 14, he opened the doors to Aristo’s Mediterranean restaurant on 100 West.
Before moving into what had been the Center Street Café, Cengiz spent nearly two years working in other restaurants in Moab.
“I work in the restaurants to see what is the idea,” Cengiz said, speaking with a Turkish accent. “I try to learn everything and the language also.”
Although he had studied hospitality management in his home city, it was his work as a busser and server in places like the Moab Brewery and Peace Tree Juice Cafe gave him an education in the nuts and bolts—or knives and forks—of restaurant management.
“I went to all the restaurants in town,” he said. “I tasted pretty much everything and I decided I could put together something no one has.”
What Cengiz has put together is a menu of Mediterranean specialties, like Tarama—a red caviar spread blended with olive oil and lemon, or grilled octopus served with a caperberrry sauce with black olive paste. More familiar plates include Turkish kebabs, baba ghanoush (a mashed-eggplant dip blended with fresh garlic, tahini and herbs) and even a burger.
“I put ‘Aristo’s Mediterranean,’ but our cook, he worked in London, France and Turkey so he’s actually making the kitchen fusion Mediterranean,” Cengiz said.
Chef Can Alp, also from Istanbul, arrived in Moab two months ago. Though Cengiz and Alp did not know each other personally while in Istanbul, Alp had worked for members of Cengiz’s family who run a hotel.
“When he heard that I was here, I didn’t know him even, he just came,” Cengiz said. “He came here because he respects my family.”
Cengiz said that Alp, who doesn’t yet speak fluent English, “likes to ride a dirt bike, so he’s happy to be here.”
“He’s young, but he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Cengiz said. “My family owned a hotel back home and we had lots of chefs there. But this guy, he loves his job. He’s not doing it for money, this is his passion.”
Passion runs deep at Aristo’s, from the owner to the chef to the manager, Oleg Jereghi, who came originally from Moldova, Russia.
“He helped me to open this place,” Cengiz said. “About three months cleaning here and he never asked for money. He’s doing it just to help me. Now he’s my manager, so he’s happy right now.”
Their hard work is already being appreciated by local patrons who welcome Moab’s increasingly diverse cuisine and dining options.
“I’m really glad it’s not another Mexican or Italian restaurant,” diner Victoria Fugit said. “I’m really happy it’s Middle Eastern.”
“I’m ready for some Mediterranean food,” local Brett Sutteer said before diving into his appetizer of hummus and Turkish sausage.
Open for dinner from 4 p.m. To 10 p.m., Aristo’s menu currently offers a variety of cold and hot appetizers and salads ranging from $6.50 to $14.95 (the grilled octopus). Main-course plates range from $12 to $21.
Cengiz plans to add a chef’s special one night a week and to change the menu slightly every two months.
“The most important thing for me that makes me happy, when I serve the table, this look on people’s faces, that’s the one makes me happy,” Cengiz said. “People like to eat good food, in the whole world this is how it is, that people like to eat good food.”
Turkish native brings culinary diversity to new restaurant
Where: 60 N. 100 West
When: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
What: Mediterranean fusion cuisine
“I went to all the restaurants in town. I tasted pretty much everything and I decided I could put together something no one has.”