In American culture, meeting for a cup of coffee is a casual event. In Turkey, meeting for coffee means much more.
“If you drink a cup of coffee with people, even if you don’t know them, that means 40 years of friendship,” Lokum owner Levent Derdiyok said.
Derdiyok sought to honor the cultural importance of Turkish coffee when he opened Lokum, San Luis Obispo’s first Turkish coffee and dessert bar, in September.
Everything in the store has been imported from Turkey and follows traditional Turkish decor. Red brick walls compliment hand-blown glass chandeliers and hand-painted floor tiles. Behind the glass case, buttery baklava and intricate Turkish delights line the shelf.
The name is Turkish too. When choosing a name, Derdiyok wanted something ethnic and easy to say. He found ‘Lokum’ to be the perfect fit. The name Lokum means “Turkish delight,” which is a popular confection in Turkey.
Lokum specializes in coffee, tea, Turkish delight and baklava. Turkish delight is a family of confection that is based on a gel of starch and sugar. Traditional Turkish delight is covered in powdered sugar, while others are rolled in dried fruit and nuts –– think chewy candy, minus all the processed sugar and chemicals. The most popular flavors are rose petal pomegranate and chocolate brownie, but they offer over 40 different options.
Baklava, which is more popular in the United States, is another traditional Turkish dessert. Baklava is a sweet layered pastry filled with nuts and honey. Lokum offers traditional walnut, traditional pistachio and chocolate hazelnut baklava, among others.
Turkish coffee is similar to espresso. It is strong and concentrated and consists of about 45,000 particles finely ground compared to 3,000 particles of espresso beans, Derdiyok said.
From coast to coast, Lokum evolved
Levent Derdiyok and his brother Bulent ran their first store in Turkey when they were 19 years old in 2000. They came to the United States and opened a retail store in upstate New York in 2007. Two years ago, they opened the first Lokum in Santa Barbara. Despite launching right before the pandemic, people eager to get out stumbled into the comfort of Lokum.
With success on State Street, the brothers decided to launch another store in San Luis Obispo.
“We are very, very happy to be here,” Derdiyok said.
The brothers decided upon San Luis Obispo due to its similarity to Santa Barbara and its smaller, more intimate setting. Levent Derdiyok manages the store here while Bulent Derdiyok takes care of Santa Barbara.
All of their products are imported from Istanbul. That’s the best way to provide authentic, high-quality ingredients, Derdiyok said. Shipments come by sea every 45 days, sometimes longer due to COVID.
San Luis Obispo gets a taste of Turkish culture
On a recent afternoon, customers peer into the case filled with a rainbow of Turkish delights. Despite customers coming and going, Derdiyok sat with reporters for over an hour. He offered them coffee and numerous samples to try and waved to familiar customers as they walked by.
Hospitality is as fundamental to Turkish culture as coffee and tea, he said. This includes offering samples to all guests. People shouldn’t feel like they have to buy something and all customers are welcome to as many samples as they wish, Derdiyok said.
People also shouldn’t feel bad for sitting at a table for a long amount of time, he said.
In creating Lokum, Dediyok wanted to create an inviting atmosphere where people can enjoy themselves and the company of others.
For San Luis Obispo customers who aren’t familiar with Turkish culture, Lokum provides a glimpse into the community of Turkey and a place to try something new.
“I honestly have only had baklava a few times and it was alright, but I didn’t realize how much I actually craved it until my roommate brought some home from Lokum,” agricultural science junior Reede Schadbourne said.
For locals with a Turkish background, Lokum offers a taste of home.
After living in Turkey up until high school, biomedical engineering junior Ipek Celioyak used to get very homesick, she said. Now that she works at Lokum, she immerses herself in Turkish culture on a regular basis.
“I know like one fully Turkish person in SLO,” Celioyak said, “and now I know more because of Lokum.”