The Eating...Our Words 100: Yilmaz "Jim" and Deanna Dokuyucu, Husband-and-Wife Owners of Turquoise Grill
Who they are:
Jim Dokuyucu, left, first moved to Houston from Turkey three decades ago.
Turquoise Grill has received many awards for its Turkish cuisine over the years. It was chosen as the Best Mediterranean in Houston by the Houston A List and was recently named as one of the top 10 restaurants in the Upper Kirby area here at Eating...Our Words.
Owner Yilmaz "Jim" Dokuyucu is from Turkey and moved to Houston about 30 years ago after meeting his wife, Deanna Teel. After he moved here, the two got married. Jim's original career back home was in chemical engineering, in which he worked as a textile engineer. After moving here, Jim worked for Aramark for about 15 years but was eventually laid off. The ending of one career sparked the beginning of another.
After his career change, Jim and his wife decided to follow their dream and open Turquoise Grill. The restaurant opened in 2003 in the Upper Kirby area, followed by a second location a few years ago in Sugar Land.
"We were actually asked by the then-mayor of Sugar Land to open up a restaurant there because of a lack of food there," says Deanna. "Of course, if you go there now, it's quite a different story. These days we are pretty busy with these two restaurants."
What do they do?
"Jim overlooks much of the menu and creative side of the food items and ensures that their food is up to par and every guest is satisfied with their experience," says Deanna. "The restaurant is family-owned and operated with many family members playing active roles. The children would come and work on their summers off from college. His parents both work there. His mother and sister overlook the food at the Kirby location. We are very family-oriented and I think it shows in our restaurants. I was the chef at the original location until the Sugar Land location opened up and now I go back and forth between the two."
How did they end up here?
After Jim was let go from Aramark after 15 years, Deanna says they "both made the decision that it would be a good time to finally open up his restaurant." That original operation started out as a simple cart selling food in the hallway of a building.
'We were waiting for our location to be finished but the landlord asked us to open up so the building's tenants could have somewhere to eat." says Deanna. "So there we were in the hallway waiting for our place to finish selling our food out of a cart in the meantime."
What about Houston and their job inspires them?
Dokuyucu loves visiting with customers at Turquoise Grill.
'Houston is very entrepreneurial," says Deanna. "It's upbeat and progressive. It's also very affordable and hospitable. The people here are very easygoing and very multicultural. People here love to eat and, not only that, they love to eat different foods. We did a lot of research into the market before we decided it was the right move to open up a restaurant here."
"[Jim] is inspired by his profession," Deanna says. "He is a naturally social person. He loves to interact with people and loves to cook. He loves infusions and experimenting with the traditional Turkish dishes making them more approachable to the American palate. He loves feeding people and seeing them happy and satisfied with their experience. I think the restaurant allows for him to fully express himself and what he loves. The food selection and the use of a brick oven show Jim's determination to providing quality authentic food that is approachable by the people here in Houston. He is very passionate about what he does and I think the restaurant really showcases that."
What do you enjoy on you time off?
"Jim is a huge soccer fan," says Deanna, "and when we weren't as busy we both liked to garden at our house. We used to grow some of the ingredients used in the restaurant before we both got so busy with the two locations."
If not this, then what?
"That's a big question," Deanna says. "But I think Jim would still be in food because it is something he really loves. He enjoys hosting pizza parties for children and interacting with them. Showing them the proper way to go about things and the chemical reactions in cooking."
If not here, then where?
"We would be in Turkey, of course," laughs Deanna. "But we really like Houston. In both terms of living and working so I don't really see us anywhere else."
What's next for you?
"At this point in our lives, the plan is just to keep on running the restaurants and putting out quality food," Deanna says. "Of course, consumers change with time and we will adapt to that. However that kind of change is minimal. Having two locations is pretty challenging so we're still figuring a few things out in our Sugar Land location. That's the immediate plan for now."
The Eating...Our Words 100:
- Dan Tidwell of Treebeards on Downtown Houston's Past, Present and Future
- Kiran Verma, Executive Chef and Owner of Kiran's Restaurant & Bar
- Catherine Rodriguez, Pastry Chef at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa
- Jody Stevens, Owner and Cake Designer of jodycakes
- Bobby Heugel, Owner of Anvil, Blacksmith, The Hay Merchant and OKRA's Charity Saloon
- Renatta Lindsey, The Taste Contestant and Houston Home Cook
- Enrique Bravo of Pollo Bravo on How Selling Chicken Helped Him Realize His American Dream
- Sean Beck, Sommelier Extraordinaire
- Brooksy Smith, Owner of JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
- Minh Nguyen, Owner of Cafe TH and One of Houston's Best Front-of-House Personalities
- Tiffany Tyler and Aimee Turney of Central City Co-Op
- Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef
- James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger
- Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation
- Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's
- Ron Chen, Owner and "Head Coach" at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro
- Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery, the Oldest Microbrewery in Texas
- Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger
- Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer & Educator, Spec's
- Sam Ray of Republic National, Houston's Largest Wine Distributor
- Thai Van, Server Extraordinaire at Kata Robata
- Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers
- Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile
- Benjy Mason, Executive Chef at Down House
Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords