A palace of bagels: how a Turkish pastry brand is going for world domination

Turkish bakery Simit Sarayi is looking to increase to 107 stores in London this year, but what is the simit pastry spearheading their push to join the big leagues?

26 April 2018
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Five years ago, the Turkish pastry chain Simit Sarayi announced that it had a target of becoming a brand recognised globally as it searched for new shareholders and a cash injection of around $500m.

Today, while it’s certainly still not a household name in the same vein as Starbucks, Simit Sarayi – which roughly translates to Bagel Palace – is present in 22 different countries and is currently in talks to purchase an 85-strong package of London sites.

This would add to their 22 different outposts in the capital, with many found in some of the most affluent areas, including Greenwich and Paddington.

Playing something akin to international monopoly, Simit Sarayi specialise in the popular Eurasian street pastry, simit - a light, sesame-covered, circular bagel that dates back to the fourteenth century in Istanbul.

The simit, along with a whole range of other baked goods, is propelling the bakery into becoming one of the world’s most up-and-coming, on-the-go eating spots.

But what exactly is the big appeal with the simit? And how has a Turkish bagel with such humble origins become the springboard for a company hell-bent on achieving world domination?

Rolling the dice

Simit Sarayi’s latest expansion push is seeing them vie for 85 London sites speculated to be owned by the UK fast/casual food company, EAT, who appointed advisors to consider its options earlier this year.

If the deal goes through, Simit Sarayi will have an impressive 107 stores in London alone. Worldwide, they plan to have 930 stores within the next three years. Talk about sticking hotels on Park Lane.

Not only do they have considerable shareholders due their successful push in 2013, they are also backed by a Turkish government subsidiary. Clearly the simit means business.

Known to be one of the most quintessential of Turkish street foodstuffs, the simit has been ever present in both the major cities and smaller towns for over 500 years.

In Turkey, simits are traditionally made through a mix of water, yeast and flour which are then rolled out into rope-like strips by the bakers. These are then placed in a molasses bath - which gives the simit its slightly sweet taste and almost caramelised colour – before being baked.

Simits are, in Eurasia, usually served either plain or for breakfast with tea. They can also be paired with cheese, fruit preserves or ayran, a traditionally Turkish beverage. Their easy-eating nature make them ideal for the UK coffee shop scene, which continues to go from strength to strength.

In 2017, the UK saw 643 new branded coffee outlets join the throng, with Britain experiencing the highest growth in terms of coffee for a third year running.

Second on the list of highest branded coffee shop growth? Turkey.

From pastry to plant-based

The simit’s increasing popularity begs the question: are there any other Turkish goods that could make new waves? Well, the previously mentioned ayran could well do.

Proclaimed to be the Turkish national beverage, ayran is a cold, savoury, yoghurt-based drink that is served across the day. The simple ingredients – namely dairy, water and salt – make it ideal for the recent ‘clean label’ wave. Considering the recent successes of both quark  and kefir, perhaps ayran could be another bastion of dairy amid the plant-based invasion?

Perhaps even a plant-based milk version is on the cards.

On the subject of ‘plant-based’, salep coffee is sold at Simit Sarayi. Salep is the flour made from a strain of orchids and has been used in beverages and desserts since Roman times. There’s also the börek - a family of Turkish pastries made from thin, flaky dough.

With a Peruvian bakery also opening in May, it seems exotic pastries are making a meal in London.

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