Interviewed by Johann Mascia
Emir Ali Enc is the owner of Soy company in Turkey which makes some of the best copper cookware in the world. Like most entrepreneurs, the path to get to where he is today was not a straight one. Our correspondent, Johann Mascia had a chance to catch up with Emir to ask a few questions regarding his life and his business.
1. Tell us more about yourself, your background and your interest.
My name is Emir Ali Enç, I am a coppersmith, owner of the Soy company.
I come from a very different background, though, as both my parents are career diplomats, and I lived in 10 different countries until now.
I am really interested in the different cuisines all around the world, and I love cooking.
2. Tell us more about what you do and why you love it.
I produce handmade copper cookware for professionals, and in direct parallel with my love of cooking and eating I also try to craft the best cookware that the world has ever known.
I love what I do because my product is an expression of my passion on the stovetops of the world.
As an idealist who is all about "form follows function" I really adore seeing my product in heavy use, in very different culinary geographies of the world.
3. What are the biggest obstacles you faced when starting out your business? How did you solve them?
Basically, since I come from a "non-trader all-government family", that, for more than 7 generations has served the Turkish State, the obstacles were more than numerous, starting with the fact that, around me, no one knew how is was like to run a business.
After that, capital was a problem, and was partly solved by a miracle after I participated in the Turkish "Who wants to be a Millionnaire" show.
Obstacles only kept following, and the next ones were all related with highly technical stuff, like"How can we have the perfect handle? Which alloy of Bronze, among millions, is perfect for us? How can we cast such a complicated handle shape? How can we make the mold for it? How can we make the bottom and sides harder, in a way that would still keep the pan flat? How can we increase conductivity? How can we facilitate cleaning? How do we ever plate 15? of Silver only on the inside? How can a human being 3mm's of Copper without extra machine power?
4. Share with us some stories of what you went through to get to where you are?
Like in any business, the problems require two things to be solved: mind (engineering) and money. My parents, in the first 2 years were not supportive at all of the business, as it was really foreign to them and inspired them no confidence at all.
At the end of the second year, the amount of problems that got accumulated became a lot, and our company cash dried up drastically. I was on the verge of hunger, and so were my workers, who were still remaning in the company, although complaining everyday. I had to ask some amount of money from one of my distributors to pay my debts. Thanks god, he lent me that amount and we substracted it from his next order. There are many more of these stories, and in many occasions, we really survived thanks to miracles.
5. What is the process of making some of your products?
Our products start their lives as pure copper sheets, with thicknesses ranging from 1.5 to 3mm's. They are then either hammered into shape, or spun by hand first, and then also hammered into their final shapes. The process of shaping copper is extremely labour-intensive and difficult. Then we mount the handles, after painstakingly hand-filing them to shiny finish. Then the products are plated, and polished into their last lustry finish, waiting to be shipped.
6. How do you define success?
Defining success is very subjective, as the very definition of "success" is itself open to debate.
My answer to success is easy: going to a very foreign land, entering a restaurant, and seeing my Soy copper pans in heavy-duty use.
7. If you had an opportunity to turn back the clock, what would you have done differently?
Well if I could, the only thing I would change is not to do a few technical errors I had previously done, so I could have the perfect product from day 1. Other than that, I am happy (and a little proud) of what I have acheived, and I am absolutely sure it was the right thing to do for me.
8. What is the vision for your company and how do you intent to achieve that?
The vision for my company is not a complicated one:
We want everyone to use handcrafted quality cookware that will last easily a few lifetimes, (and will cook way better than anything else) instead of using lower quality industrially produced stuff.
We intend to win the world thanks to our astounding product quality rather than clever marketing techniques.
Moreover, we also want to promote Solid Silver Cookware for Premium Customers, as it is even better than our Copper Cookware in performance, yet pricewise, it is VERY exclusive.
9. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are starting a new business?
NEVER GIVE UP!
If you really believe in what you do, if it will make the world a better place (prioritize the advantage to humanity over your wallet first) and if you see a light in the future, although dim, NEVER give up.
Yes, obstacles are numerous, but you can easily overcome them with time and patience, and who knows, you might get your biggest order ever when you least expect it!
10. What is your favourite dish? What makes the dish perfect?
For someone who has a deep interest in Cuisine and culinary history, and, after having visited more than 40 countries in the world, I can answer this question in a very easy way:
"My favorite is dish is the local specialty of whereever i happen to be, on season".
Really, I can't think about putting one particular dish in front of another, but among the terroirs I visited, I would say Mainland Turkey and the Greater Syrian geography (including parts of Turkey, and Lebanon + Jordan) and what is now Irak have historically given the most culinary variety to the world, as civilization as we know it, was born there.
The sheer variety and the refinement of the food culture in that particular geography is beyond human comprehension and an endless pit for whoever dares to dive in it.
Another important particularity of Near-Eastern Cusine is that anyone from any part of the world will unquestionably love it, whereas Chinese or French cuisines, who are undoubtedly rich in variety, refined and developed, would not appeal to every palate, globally speaking.
11. What are some of the most memorable wines you have drunk?
I am no Wine expert, but there is a kind of Red Wine from Mardin, in Eastern Turkey, that is produced in the Deyrüzzafaran Monastery by Assyiran Monks of the Syriac Christian Rite.
What makes that wine really special is that the regional weather being very hot and dry, the grape (Tur Abidin variety) has a very accentuated fruity taste, and due to spice plantations coexisting right inside the Vineyards, the Wine that comes from this Monastery carries an inherent spicy taste, that goes really well with the very rich (and perennial) cuisine of Mardin. Unfortunately, Turkey not being strong on the Marketing side, access to this wine proves itself rather hard.