Mehmet sadık Vefa, the owner of the 137 years old Vefa Bozacısı, carries the responsibility he took over with with rigour, as the fourth generation representative of his family. Mr. Vefa said: ‘’Hundred thousands of people passed through this marble step in this door. Perhaps we will make this shop a museum. We are planning to exhibit the historical objects in the museum and then to write a book about them.’’
*It is said that there were 200 boza shops in İstanbul in a period, is it true?
It is true. It is said that it was like that in the end of the 19th century. Then, İstanbul consisted of only a peninsula. It means that every street had a boza shop. My great-grandfather Hacı Sadık Bey came from Prizren, the mountainous city of Albania, to İstanbul in 1870. He made boza under the house he lived for 6 years during the daytime and he sold it in the palace and in the streets near the palace in the evenings.
*How was Hacı Sadık Bey distinguished among his competitors in İstanbul where there was a boza shop in every street?
He saw that, boza was drunk as a sour beverage in the thickness of ayran (a beverage made of yoghurt and water). It was drunk like that in the place he came, too. Sour and dark boza in the thickness of ayran is still drunk in Bulgaria. Hacı Sadık Bey offered a thick product whose cost was higher. He used millet instead of corn. It is easy to process corn but millet is more delicious. The taste of Vefa Bozacısı is because of it. Then, the newly fermented, fresh boza also has a sweet taste. I find this idea as a stroke of genius for that period. He created a product different with its thickness and colur, with a high cost and hard to produce.
*How did he make this product he added a new taste meet with people?
He carried it on his back and sold it on the same route between 1870 and 1876. In the beginning, 1 person was waiting for him in the streets but then 3 people began to wait, then the customers became 5 people and so on. I think he was encouraged very much in 1876, because he set up a shop near Şehzadebaşı, one of the most popular places in that period when Ramadan months were lived in the most flamboyant way and fin-de-siecle cabaret theaters were popular.
*How did you undertake the family profession as the fourth generation? Have you ever thought of another job?
First of all, my grandfather named me after his father. They encumbered me in the beginning. I went to Vefa High School. I studied tourism and hotel management in Germany. I was about to start working as a director in a grand hotel in Germany. I was on a good point of my career. My grandmother wanted me to manage the business. She said: ‘’Our labour will be ruined.’’ I said: ‘’I’m not going, I’ll stay here.’’ She became very happy.
*Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I undertook the business from the third generation. I have a sister and a cousin. I work together with my cousin. I don’t have children, he even has grandchildren.
*Do you think about opening a second branch?
It’s in my heart but we peak only 5 months in winter. It restricts us. Fermented grape juice is produced in order to keep this shop open. My great-grandfather also did so. Then he made vinegar from fermented grape juice. Vinegar was started to be produced that way. We have lemonade and ice cream in summer. I asked about a shop on Bağdat Avenue. They said: ‘’Its rental is 49 thousand Euros.’’ This rental cannot be paid with boza. It is not an affordable amount.
*Did the technology affect the taste?
The taste of the boza in the shop and the boza in the bottle are different. The production procedure is same but there is no yeast in the boza sold in the plastic bottles, there is yeast in the boza in the shop. The lifetime of boza is reduced to 3 days when we add yeast into it. Nuance differences occur in its taste. Drinking boza in this historical place is another pleasure, I think. However, İstanbul grew very much. We offer the boza at the stands in supermarkets or cafes in order to transport it to our guests who can’t come here. The life of the product becomes 15 days because there is no yeast.
*On how many points does Vefa Boza meet with the customers?
We are on 2 thousand 600 points in Turkey. We are intending to be at least in 40 provinces with the renewal of our technology in 2014. We have a team consisting of 100 people. Our progress may look slow but we act in a precautious way and we don’t take risks.
*You have succeeded in protecting the shop in its original sight…
Hundred thousands of people passed through the marble step in the door. We don’t renew it at the moment. How long will it last? Perhaps we will make this shop a museum. Our first plan is to open a museum next to it. There are various objects from big and small glasses without standard from France to glasses with jugs for bearded people to drink. We are planning to exhibit the historical objects in the museum and then to make a book.
*What else exists in this shop which has never changed?
There are our principles which we have never changed. For example, the religious holidays have transformed into vacations but I am always here. On the first day, we exchange bairam greetings with all staff. We present handkerchieves on Eid-ul-Fitr and we give people meat on Eid-ul-Adha. There is nothing such as ‘’I’m not here this holiday.’’
*What about the lost beauty of İstanbul?
When we were children there were mansions on all of the streets near Süleymaniye. All of them had different architectures and beauty. Some of them had one entrance, some of them had two entrances; each of them were different. They were used as rooms for singles. The tenants removed the pieces of wood from outside and they burnt them in stove. The back of IMC (İstanbul Drapers’ Bazaar) has just begun to be tried to be saved. It hurts me. It is a legacy. If we commemorate our ancestors with gratitude today, we should protect what they left. The surroundings should be completely taken into maintenance.
THE ORIGINAL GLASS BOTTLE CAN BE A THING OF THE PAST
‘’Our boza bottles are important and original. We can still have them made. But how long can we have them made? I don’t know. Small glass industry is vanishing. They are jobs with a lot of expenses. They are handmade. They want 160 thousand TLs for moulds for serial production. Perhaps we will take support after a while.’’
WHY DID ATATÜRK COME THERE?
‘’It is known that the glass Mustafa Kemal drank boza is here. There is a reason for Atatürk to come here. When he was in İstanbul, my grandfather used to visit him in Dolmabahçe every Saturday. He did not want even his sons to know it. He was graduated from the Schools of Theology and Literature. He became a Muslim pilgrim when he was 35 years old. He wrote a commentary of Koran. I did not see my grandfather without a necktie and a felt hat. Atatürk stopped by here when he was returning from Çorlu where he went to review the army corps. His coming here was a return visit. This glass is the only object about him outside the museum.’’
‘’There is zero fat in our boza. We recommend it against obesity. Putting leblebi on a glass of boza and drinking it keeps you satiated. There are no additives in it. It is completely natural. It is made of millet semolina, water and sugar. Twenty per cent sugar is used; it decreases to 12 per cent when it is fermented. The lactic acid in it is good for the intestines. It is more effective than vinegar against cholera, according to the research of TÜBİTAK (Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey). Pregrant women prefer it because it makes milk.’’