Sultan’s Legacy: Elia’s Unique Bay Area Dining Experience comes Front and Center

9 mins read

Part Two: Fatih Takes Over

SF Times: Your transition from Sultan’s Kebabs to starting Elia must have come with its own set of challenges. How did you decide to make that leap?

Fatih: Taking over Sultan’s was pivotal, not just for the restaurant but personally. After my father’s passing, I was deeply moved by the outpouring of support from our community and the legacy my father had built. It was both daunting and inspiring. I knew I had to carry on his legacy, but I also felt a strong urge to build something new, something that would complement Sultan’s Kebabs but also stand on its own. The idea for Elia was born from wanting to explore the depth and breadth of Mediterranean cuisine in a new light, pushing boundaries while staying true to my father’s vision of generosity and hospitality.

SF Times: What was the transition from running Sultan’s Kebabs to founding Elia like?

Fatih: It was like moving from one familiar room into another that was larger but completely unfurnished. I took the lessons learned from Sultan’s, like the importance of community and the art of creating a welcoming space, and applied them in a new context. The transition was exciting but filled with new challenges, from conceptualizing Elia’s unique identity to ensuring that it reflected the high standards we’d set at Sultan’s Kebabs. It was about taking a beloved local brand and expanding its narrative to include a new, perhaps more refined, chapter.

SF Times: How did your father’s principles influence your approach to starting Elia?

Fatih: My father always placed great emphasis on the joy of feeding people and making them feel at home. That principle is the foundation upon which both Sultan’s Kebabs and Elia are built. Moving into Elia, I wanted to refine this idea further, creating an ambiance and culinary experience that elevates but does not intimidate. Even with Elia aiming for a more upscale dining experience, the heart of what we do remains the same: making people happy with our food and service.

Inspiration for Elia

SF Times: Transitioning to Elia represents a significant evolution from Sultan’s Kebabs. What was the inspiration behind Elia?

Fatih: The idea for Elia stemmed from my love for fine dining and my experiences across different countries, particularly in places like Europe, Greece, and the south of Turkey. I’ve always been drawn to how these places present not just their food but the entire dining experience. With Elia, I wanted to capture that essence—a fine dining experience rooted in Mediterranean traditions but presented in a more contemporary and artistic manner.

SF Times: Did your travels specifically influence any aspect of Elia?

Fatih: Absolutely. My travels, especially to Greece, had a profound impact on me. The ambiance, the food, and the culture there were incredibly inspiring. I sought to bring a piece of that experience back home—creating an environment at Elia that reflected the casual elegance and warmth of the Greek dining scene, coupled with the rich flavors and hospitality that’s characteristic of the Mediterranean.

SF Times: How did you translate those travel experiences into creating Elia?

Fatih: It was about blending the traditional with the modern. For Elia, this meant taking traditional Mediterranean dishes and presenting them in a way that’s both current and creative. The concept was to make Elia not just a place to eat but a destination—one that offers an immersive experience into the culture, colors, and tastes of the Mediterranean. From the menu to the decor, every element of Elia is infused with inspirations from my travels, designed to transport our guests to those same beautiful places that inspired me.

Elia’s Cuisine

SF Times: For someone who’s never been to Elia, what dishes would you recommend they try to get the full experience?

Fatih: At Elia, I highly recommend our octopus dish. It’s one of our standout appetizers and showcases our approach to Mediterranean cuisine—fresh, flavorful, and made with a seasonal twist. My partner, the chef, tweaks the dish according to the season. For instance, in winter, the ingredients are adjusted to bring warmth and a bit more heat, contrasting with the lighter, cooler versions we serve in summer.

SF Times: That sounds incredibly thoughtful and dynamic. Is there another dish that encapsulates Elia’s essence?

Fatih: Without a doubt, the Lavraki, our Mediterranean Sea Bass, is a must-try. It’s served whole, head and tail included, offering an authentic Mediterranean experience. Although it’s semi-deboned for ease, it maintains its integrity as a fresh, light, and impeccably prepared dish. This sea bass perfectly represents Elia’s dedication to bringing Mediterranean flavors to life with a touch of elegance and simplicity.

SF Times: Are these dishes your personal favorites as well?

Fatih: Absolutely. The octopus and Lavraki are not just recommendations; they’re my personal favorites too. Their preparation, presentation, and the seasonal variations of the octopus dish exemplify what Elia aims to achieve—a vibrant, innovative, yet true-to-roots Mediterranean dining experience that engages and delights our guests.

Future Plans

SF Times: Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of Elia, and your culinary adventures in general?

Fatih: My vision is to keep it at a point where both I and my customers can thoroughly enjoy what we offer. It’s much like the philosophy of life itself—you don’t want to have too much of anything, because then it loses its charm, its quality. Over the years, there have been numerous opportunities, especially with Sultan’s Kebab, where investors have come with proposals to expand, to franchise, but I’ve chosen to say no.

SF Times: Why resist the temptation to franchise or expand aggressively?

Fatih: It’s a choice that comes from a desire to maintain the quality, the authenticity, and the personal touch of our ventures. Expanding too much, too quickly, often comes at the cost of those elements. Both Sultan’s Kebabs and Elia are more than just businesses—they are places where people come to enjoy good food and good company, akin to an extension of my home. I wish to preserve that atmosphere, that uniqueness. The future, for me, is about refining what we have, ensuring we continue to offer experiences that are memorable and cherished by our guests.

Fatih plans to continue spreading and expanding with his current restaurants, as well as experimenting with new concepts. Recently, Fatih opened Sultan’s Grocery, which provides the necessary imported ingredients for his restaurants as well as for the local community and other restaurant owners. His next foray into the restaurant business will be an entirely new concept – a new restaurant called “St. Mary’s.” He looks forward to the continued opportunities to grow this popular business.

Abigail Kouma

Abigail is a caffeine-fueled bookworm and journalist from Marin County. She's passionate about art and constantly searching for new ways to express creativity and stay on beat with the cultural scene in SF.

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