Published: May 07, 2019 at 6:55 p.m.
Hakan Uluer moves around in his The Bicycle Thief restaurant saying “Hi” to the customers.
“When you have (guests) come into your home, of course, you do the best possible scenario to make sure they have an amazing time,” he says, explaining how hospitality is important to him as a Turkish person.
Uluer became the sole owner of The Bertossi Group a year and a half ago — four Italian-inspired restaurants in Halifax, Ristorante a Mano, La Frasca, il Mercato Trattoria and The Bicycle Thief with a total staff of 250 workers.
“I’m a Turkish citizen and Canadian citizen — very proud of both. However, (the) world’s number-one cuisine is Italian cuisine,” he says in his deep voice describing how Italian food “has something for everyone.”
He still loves all kinds of food. “That’s the reason that I’m not a skinny guy,” he jokes.
Uluer was born in Istanbul where he went to the International, Tourism and Hospitality School. In 1987, he started working in the city’s luxurious hotels and restaurants as a server and bartender.
In 1995, he joined the Royal Caribbean International cruise line, which operates from Miami, Florida. There, he had to start as a busser. “I worked my way up as a dining-room operations manager,” he says with a smile.
A Canadian woman was running the gift shop on the same cruise ship. “I saw her, and love-at-first-sight kind of thing happened,” Uluer says.
After years of being in relationship with Veronica, he proposed, and they ended up marrying in 2000.
“Her roots are in Nova Scotia. And her father was in the military, so she travelled throughout the country,” he says. “When we decided to move to Canada, we
settled in Vancouver.”
In Canada, Uluer worked with the Landmark restaurants and hotels.
Four months after his daughter Sierra was born in 2009, they had a flood in their Vancouver condo, so they had to move to outside the city for a while.
“The commute was one and a half hours … I said to myself: ‘This is crazy. Every day, I’m spending one and a half hour I could spend with my family,’” he says.
The real-estate prices in Vancouver were going up quickly. “As an immigrant, it was very challenging … We’re talking about a million dollars for a house in Vancouver,” he says.
After a discussion with his wife, they made the decision to move to Halifax. “I’ve been here on vacations before with my wife … It looks like (there is) a lot of opportunities, and we should go there,” he explains.
The family flew to Halifax. “If you want to have bigger rewards, you have to take bigger risks,” he says justifying his decision to quit his job and move to a new city.
“I had some savings. And my job is transferable anywhere in the world,” he says.
Uluer sent his resume to The Bicycle Thief owner after he saw an ad for a management job online. Five minutes later his cellphone rang: “‘When are you available?’ they asked me. I said, ‘Right now.’
“That’s very important, because it shows that … I’m willing to do anything it takes.”
The next morning, he met the owner, Stephanie Bertossi, for a coffee. “In five minutes, she realized and also I realized, it was the right fit for both of us,” he says.
Uluer started with The Bertossi Group as a manager. In a year, Stephanie and her husband Maurizio offered him a partnership. He took it and worked mainly in The Bicycle Thief.
“I tried to utilize myself as much as possible to, to make sure that anybody walks into this place had an amazing time.”
He values hard work. “If you’re going to get somewhere at any company … You have to work harder than everybody else,” he emphasizes. “Hard work is the measure that you are at least 20 to 30 per cent working harder than anybody else around you,” he explains “That’s how I did it.”
In the meantime, he took some intense courses in New York including human resources courses to improve himself.
“In this business, you always look for opportunities to develop yourself constantly — reading about the food, what’s coming next, and what’s trends?”
For him, moving to Nova Scotia was like moving to a new country. “People are very humble, very welcoming,” he says. “That really impressed me.”
His son, Mateo, was born here seven years ago. “He is one-hundred-per-cent Nova Scotian,” he says with a smile.
As an immigrant to Halifax, he says he could not imagine any better city to live in. “I’m living the Canadian dream.”
He says there are a lot of opportunities here. “If you trust yourself, believe in yourself, what’s your excuse? Really?” he says.