By Andrew Segedin / Reporter
MOONACHIE (Dec. 10, 2010) — This week, in our effort to learn about local Turkish influence, we find ourselves in a place we’d least expect: a pizzeria in Moonachie, owned by a North Arlington resident.
As strange as it seems, it’s all the more so to owner Hazar Karacay, who, prior to opening Amalfi Pizzeria in Carlstadt six years ago, never had any interest in owning a restaurant. Over the past few weeks, Karacay has moved to a larger space on Moonachie Avenue and hopes to integrate more of his personal background and culture while maintaining his old customers and attracting new ones.
Karacay’s family background is not unlike that of many other local Turkish families. Born to Azerbaijani parents, Karacay and his family lived in Istanbul until moving to Newark in 1963 when he was 18.
“My father was a colonel,” Karacay explains. “He knew things in Middle East weren’t going to be good. We left for me — to give me a better life.”
What Karacay refers to is the military unrest in Turkey during the early 1960s. Many families in the area emigrated in the late 1950s and early 1960s in an effort to find a better life and settled in places like Newark and Brooklyn. What our area has seen in recent years is not so much a wave of Turkish immigrants — but a wave of second-generation Turks moving out of the cities their families settled in and into the suburbs.
“My family was the first in our old neighborhood to move to Lyndhurst,” recalls Karacay. “Then other people followed. After that, I was the first to move to North Arlington, then peopled followed. People stick together.”
People sticking together is a big reason why Amalfi is the place it is today. After spending 38 years working in Manhattan — first as a coffee boy and then manager at Merrill Lynch — Karacay found himself in position to open a restaurant. Due to the small size of his original location, Karacay decided that pizza, gyros, pasta dishes, and subs were a good way to start out.
“Because we were all under the Ottoman Empire at one time, Turkish culture, Turkish food — it’s a little French, a little Greek, Italian, Arab — it’s a mix. A lot on the grill — grilled meats with rice dishes, pasta dishes. I’m open to making the menu more Mediterranean with (the larger space).”
The move to the larger space was an ordeal in itself. Family, friends and employees volunteered their services to help clean out the new space and move Amalfi’s cooking equipment in — a trying time that took a month. Even after the move, family and friends stop by, chat with Karacay, and will deliver an order on their way out.
“I’ll never go down because these people don’t want me to go down. We’re like family. They call me Papa.”
Sure enough, on cue, a friend of Karacay’s comes in and greets him calling him “Papa.”
The restaurant has taken on more of its owner’s personality. Karacay often puts in 17 hour days, staying in his office and taking orders well into the night — a pillow in his office just in case. Along with his work ethic, the restaurant hopes to bring in new customers by utilizing Karacay’s heritage.
“We have a big party room now with a hard wood floor,” says Karacay. “Maybe a Turkish Ladies Night or Turkish Music Night — whatever people want. Whatever will bring them in.”
Amalfi’s is located at 110 Moonachie Ave. in Moonachie. For more information, call 201-935-0003.