Meet Zeynel Abidin Uzun, owner of Kazan restaurant. Since opening its doors in 1980, Kazan has become a Washington institution and is deeply rooted in the McLean community. The family atmosphere, emphasis on the freshest ingredients and friendly service have remained constants.

Kazan: In the beginning

I came to the United States in 1976 as a chef, a Mediterranean cook, for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in Miami. On the ship I worked, I told people, I just want to open my own restaurant. They recommended this area, with The State Department, the British Agency, people who go to Turkey and enjoy the Turkish food live here. I came to Vienna, Virginia. We opened a Turkish restaurant there. It was a hole in the wall small place. Now Kazan has been almost 44 years here.

My father was a chef. My father’s father was a chef. I went to chef school also. During the day I was working in a restaurant in Istanbul, there’s a restaurant in the museum, from there I took military service. I guess I loved cooking all my life. I still do. I don’t cook much as I used to at Kazan, but now, after the pandemic, because it’s hard to get workers, I do more and it’s still good.

Kazan: Behind the scenes

Well, the first thing I can say to you, I would only recommend to open a restaurant to my enemy. I can tell you that much. I love the restaurant, it’s the hardest business in the world. The riskiest business. One day you come in, maybe the cook has some problem, about his wife or something, and the next day you come in, maybe one of the waiters has an emergency, but you have to open the restaurant. I’m very lucky I have a daughter and a son. And my son [40] has his own business and my daughter [32] works in a law firm but still helping me on the weekend. Sometimes when I need them during the week too. They want to help the dad so they’ll come in and help me out. It’s a tough business to be in, for sure.

The McLean community

Some of the people I still have from the day that I open Kazan. They still come unless they move. Then Christmas time or any of the other holidays, people call me from all over the country and they say, are you still there? We had some people from Hawaii and they call me, people from Alaska, from around the country, Jacksonville, Wyoming, they say, Are you still there? We are going to bring our family, our kids. They are coming back for reunion with family, friends in the area where people live. This area is a very cosmopolitan area. People live here from all over the world and they know about the good food. In the 45 years, so many restaurants come and go. And I know one thing. As long as you give people good food, and consistency, good service, care about your business, people come back. Our business is 95% repeat business.

The food at Kazan

The Doner Kebab at Kazan s my favorite dish. We make it Wednesdays and Fridays for lunch and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for dinner. People always mix up with the gyro. It’s not a gyro. It’s thinly sliced lamb and veal cooked cooked over a vertical flame and served over pita bread and yogurt sauce or with rice pilaf and topped with a tomato sauce. That’s one of the most famous ones people love. I love it. Fish wise, we make an excellent fresh swordfish. I never cook frozen fish. They make a very nice fresh swordfish kebab on a skewer, along with green peppers, tomato, onions. We’ve also lately been getting white sea bass from Turkey. It comes over on Turkish Airlines a couple times a week, Turkish Cargo and we cook it on the grill. Sometimes people call and say, Do you have white sea bass or Is it coming? Sometimes people say, Call us when you get it. We have a couple of times a week.

A day off

Whenever I get a chance I  go to Berkley Springs, West Virginia. My favorite place for their roman baths, natural springs and horseback riding. It’s a wonderful place. here’s some restaurants there I go to. In McLean, whenever the new restaurant opens, I go try it and see.