Suyun is like Mr. Rick in 'Casablanca'

On the Waterfront

Posted: Friday, May 04, 2007

Hayder Suyun, owner of the Zephyr Restaurant located in the Simpson Building on Second and Seward streets, reminds me of Mr. Rick of "Casablanca."

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He was born in Istanbul, Turkey, 45 years ago.

Istanbul is the modern name for the great city of Constantinople, started by the first Christian emperor Constantine in 312 AD. For more than a thousand years it remained the seat of Byzantium power in the Middle East until conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The ancient massive walls built 1,500 years ago still surround the city.

Suyun and I once shared sailing on the same cruise line. It was called Epirotiki, a Greek-owned shipping company. I was a passenger to South America on the Pegasus and he was a crewman on the Jason, which visited Juneau in 1986.

He was the manager of the duty free shop. The Jason came to the west coast of America because of an international festival held at Vancouver, Canada. It only carried 120 passengers. That's almost unbelievable in contrast to the huge ships carrying 2,000 to 3,500 tourists.

This gave Suyun his first view of Alaska. He returned to Turkey and went into the business of selling beautiful handmade carpets. The Sept. 11, 2001, attack in New York hurt the trade, so he decided to return to Juneau.

He sold carpets for a few years, then began a restaurant called the Raven's Cafe next to the Imperial Bar on Front Street. His cook was Nick Kourtis, born in Manchester, New Hampshire, of Greek parents. Nick is the head cook at the Zephyr. Among his wonderful dishes, I especially like the hot soup served before the appetizers and entrees.

Suyun is such a cosmopolitan individual and so well mannered, friendly to all and suavely attentive to his customers, that I often visualize him as a character from my imagination, someone like Mr. Rick of "Casablanca," played by Humphrey Bogart, in the famous movie of 1941.

There is even a "Sam" working at the Zephyr, but unfortunately he doesn't play the piano; so you can't urge him to "Play it, Sam," as Mr. Rick said in memory of Elsa.

"We'll still have Paris," he told her when he said good-bye.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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