An Interview with Avni Ongurlar

With Mr. Avni Ongurlar, the visionary owner of the esteemed Hafiz Mustafa 1864, we delved into the rich history and innovations that define Hafiz Mustafa. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, offering a fascinating insight into the world of Hafiz Mustafa, a brand that has thrived for an incredible one-and-a-half centuries. During the interview, we discovered the highlights of Hafiz Mustafa’s remarkable journey, traced his roots back to 1864, and explored the dynamic development of his brand identity. 

Mr. Ongular shared his insights on the challenges and triumphs of preserving tradition while embracing modernity and keeping the promise of quality and authentic content.

How did you bring the Candymaker Hafız Mustafa brand, founded in 1864, to its current status by following a strategy? How was this success story written?

 

Avni Ongurlar: The journey of Şekerci (Candymaker) Hafız Mustafa, which dates back to 1864 during Sultan Abdulaziz’s reign, is remarkable. Founded by Hacı İsmail Hakki Bey in Bahçekapı, Istanbul, and later taken over by his son Hafız Mustafa, our brand has a rich history rooted in tradition and quality. We have been pioneers in the confectionery industry, known for introducing innovations such as hard candy and earning 11 prestigious taste medals in Europe for our exceptional pastry products.

Regarding strategy, success is built on dedication, authenticity, and commitment to the craft. Our brand’s history and reputation were not based on imitation or fabricated stories but on a legacy of delivering high-quality products. While many may claim to have a similar history, authenticity shines through in the quality of our offerings.

I took it upon myself to preserve the legacy and recipes passed down through generations. We have maintained the original recipes, many of which are included in Hafız Mustafa’s will. Staying true to these recipes, I initially established a workshop in Sirkeci, which later expanded to accommodate the production of Turkish delight, baklava, and pastries. As demand grew, we expanded our operations, opening a larger facility in Sirkeci.

One unique turning point in our journey was when a renowned writer named Francisco Leal Quevedo from Spain visited our shop. Although I couldn’t meet him then, his subsequent book, Los Secretos de Hafiz Mustafa (Secrets of Hafız Mustafa), became immensely popular in Spain and was later translated into Turkish. The book and its accompanying stories helped introduce Hafız Mustafa to a broader audience, especially among schoolchildren in Spain and Colombia. It significantly contributed to our brand’s recognition and boosted tourism.

Today, our brand welcomes a diverse clientele, with approximately 60 percent of our customers hailing from abroad, including the Gulf region, Europe, France, Italy, Belgium, and Germany. My two sons and I start our day at 5 AM in the morning, ensuring our products’ highest quality and purity standards. We take great pride in our organic and authentic offerings, which have become synonymous with the Hafız Mustafa name.

Our success story has been written through a commitment to tradition, authenticity, and a dedication to delivering the finest confectionery products, which has earned us a reputation that transcends borders and generations.

 
Drawing inspiration from the rich tapestry of Ottoman and Seljuk culture, we planned every facet of our service, from the presentation on the plate to the ambiance within our stores. This includes curating a harmonious soundscape and an evocative aroma, leaving no detail overlooked. Rooted in a legacy of time-honored recipes, we’ve seamlessly woven the threads of our strong heritage into our product offerings. Alongside our renowned baklavas, delights, milk desserts, pastries, and traditional beverages, we take immense pride in presenting an extensive array of Turkish delight—a cherished treasure within our culture. With unwavering dedication, we handcraft Turkish, Seljuk, and Ottoman sweets, remaining true to the authenticity of traditional recipes. We consider ourselves purveyors of fine confections and cultural ambassadors entrusted with the mission of preserving and passing on these cherished flavors to the generations that follow.

Avni Ongurlar

Hafiz Mustafa 1864 | Centennial Desserts

Avni Ongurlar

Hafiz Mustafa 1864 | Centennial Desserts

What products do you offer your customers, and what is your approach to product development?

 

Avni Ongurlar: At Hafız Mustafa, we take pride in offering a diverse range of over 500 high-quality products. Our approach to product development has always been deeply rooted in tradition and innovation, and we have a strong entrepreneurial spirit within our family that drives this process. However, our customers’ valuable feedback and preferences guide our product development.

We have an assortment of pastries in the morning, featuring over 20 unique varieties. One of our most renowned pastries is our homemade pastry, which stands out as yeast-free and exceptionally flaky. It’s a true specialty that we’ve perfected over the years. Additionally, we have pastries like Sarıyer börek and Karaköy börek, all made from baklava phyllo and containing a rich mixture of ingredients, including minced meat, cheese, and potatoes. These are part of our culinary heritage, with Hafız Mustafa earning taste medals in Europe for these creations. We prepare these pastries at 6 AM, ensuring they come out fresh and delicious by 9:00 AM. 

Our pastry selection also includes delightful options like Su Böreği (layered pastry) made from baklava phyllo, fresh cheese, and butter and varieties with olives and kashkaval cheese. Layered pastry, a customer favorite known for being gentle on the stomach, is available in all our stores.

Regarding desserts, we offer more than 20 types of Turkish puddings, including baked rice pudding and various spangle varieties with chocolate, cake, and pistachios. Our special tres leches, a creation of my sons Emre and Eren, have been a remarkable success locally, in Dubai, and abroad.

Turkish delight is another forte, with Hafız Mustafa credited as the inventor of pomegranate Turkish delight. We take pride in using natural fruit instead of flavorings, producing organic and authentic Turkish delights. Our global customer base enjoys our Turkish delights, and we offer online delivery worldwide.

Baklava is another specialty where we use 100 percent butter and high-quality pistachios. We boast nearly 50 baklava varieties, all made to perfection. Beyond these products, we also share our rich Turkish culture with the world.

We proudly serve premium Turkish coffee crafted exclusively from 100 percent Arabica coffee beans, a beloved choice for our patrons to savor in our cozy branches or take home to relish at their leisure. Furthermore, we proudly present novel Turkish coffee variations: Anatolian Coffee, boasting the rich heritage of mesir paste; Golden Coffee, graced with the luxurious essence of saffron; and our Alaturca Coffee, infused with the delightful aroma of salep.

In addition to our signature coffee offerings, we extend a selection of herbal teas alongside an exclusive assortment of unique coffee experiences, including pomegranate and apple blends, that can be savored solely at our branches. 

Our organic ice cream, free from additives, is a crowd-pleaser. Regarding product development, we conduct rigorous R&D studies to enhance the quality and taste of our offerings. We examine cakes and desserts worldwide, aiming to adapt them to our rich cultural heritage. Having traveled extensively and explored global culinary traditions, I also pay close attention to customer satisfaction. If a customer still needs to finish their plate, I reach out personally to ensure their experience meets our high-quality standards. Quality is non-negotiable, a principle we uphold in every aspect of our work.

Avni, Eren & Emre Ongurlar

Hafiz Mustafa 1864

Avni Ongurlar

Hafiz Mustafa 1864 

How would you define the characteristics of a good baklava and Turkish delight, and how can people distinguish quality when they taste these sweets?

Avni Ongurlar: Defining the qualities of exceptional baklava and Turkish delight is an art form rooted in centuries of tradition and craftsmanship. To truly understand and appreciate quality, one must consider the ingredients and the creation process.

For Turkish delight, the choice of ingredients is paramount. We use the finest pistachios available, carefully selected for their quality. Many producers compromise by using subpar ingredients like glucose, but we never take shortcuts. Our commitment is to create products that are delicious and safe for consumption. We wish to pass this legacy down to our descendants and future generations.

Let’s delve into the process of crafting our Turkish delight. We begin with raw materials at the ready, including roasted pistachios, organic fruits, and starch. The key here is the water we use, which has a soft pH and includes zamzam water, a unique touch that connects tradition with modern taste. After a meticulous blending process, we introduce other ingredients, such as hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, and figs. This is where our authentic flavors are born.

Rest is a fundamental aspect of crafting Turkish delight. We allow our products to rest, essential for achieving the desired consistency and texture. Unrested products can lead to customer dissatisfaction, and we aim for our customers to experience the same exquisite taste whether they enjoy our Turkish delight immediately or a week later at home.

One critical aspect must be considered is maintaining the right balance between the ingredients. Achieving this balance is essential for producing top-quality Turkish delight, requiring precision, skill, and experience. We never leave the boiler unattended, ensuring the product has perfect consistency.

As for baklava, the choice of pistachios plays a crucial role in its quality. We pride ourselves on sourcing the best pistachios in Turkey, and our long-standing relationship with a trusted pistachio merchant allows us to maintain this standard. We’ve never compromised on the quality and always pay above-market prices for the finest ingredients.

Our products, including baklava and pastries, use the highest quality milk, specifically buffalo milk and premium baklava flour. This dedication to quality is a hallmark of Hafız Mustafa.

Ultimately, distinguishing quality in baklava and Turkish delight comes from a rich and harmonious blend of superior ingredients, meticulous craftsmanship, and a commitment to delivering exceptional flavors. This commitment has earned us recognition nationally and internationally, and I take immense pride in our continued success in these endeavors.

Your brand, Hafız Mustafa, has a remarkable history spanning one and a half centuries. What advantages and challenges does this extensive history bring, and how does it shape your mission?

Avni Ongurlar: Indeed, the legacy of Hafız Mustafa, which spans nearly a century and a half, is both a privilege and a responsibility. The advantages are manifold. First and foremost, we are blessed with a rich heritage and the weight of tradition, which instills a deep sense of purpose in everything we do. Our history is a guiding force, pushing us to maintain and elevate the standards set by those who came before us.

Being the second oldest company in Türkiye, with Hacibekir as our esteemed neighbor, gives us a unique sense of continuity and belonging. This proximity signifies more than just physical closeness; it symbolizes our shared commitment to preserving the essence of Turkish culinary art.

One significant advantage of being an old establishment is the energy, or the legacy of energy; we inherit from our predecessors. The name “Hafız Mustafa” carries a spiritual power that continues to inspire us. It’s not just a brand; it’s a living tradition that demands excellence and authenticity.

While some may attempt to imitate our style or products, we remain unfazed. We view it as a relay race where Hafız Mustafa has entrusted us with the flag. We’re not competing with imitators; we focus on upholding our quality and heritage.

The challenge, if any, is ensuring that we consistently meet the high expectations associated with the Hafız Mustafa name. This demands a commitment to quality, a dedication to preserving our cultural roots, and a deep respect for our customers. We’re in the business of making people happy through our treats, and we take that mission to heart.

While our shop may get busy with queues forming, we never turn away a customer or break anyone’s heart due to the rush. Every individual is precious to us, and this approach, born from our history, has become one of our defining traits. Ultimately, being part of a brand with such a storied history is not just about inheriting a legacy but nurturing it. Hence, it continues to flourish and inspire generations to come.

What are the future goals of Hafiz Mustafa?

Avni Ongurlar: The future of Hafız Mustafa looks exceptionally promising, primarily because we derive immense pleasure from what we do. We have a unique business model – we don’t operate under a franchise system. Instead, we have 15 shops, all offering our own products. Soon, within the next three or four months, we’re excited to establish an impressive store and factory in London. We’ve received substantial offers from around the world to expand through franchising, with the promise of significant financial gains. However, I firmly believe that this isn’t the right path for us.

Money, while necessary, isn’t the sole driving force behind our decisions. It can be fleeting and isn’t a panacea for success. What truly fulfills us is the act of crafting exceptional products and sharing our culture in a meaningful way. It’s a source of great pride for me and my family to represent our heritage in this manner.

Hafız Mustafa has brought about a revolution in our production and manufacturing processes. Looking ahead, we aspire to establish a presence in Germany, France, and the US. My grandchildren are growing up and receiving excellent educations, and they naturally are inclined to this business. They are resourceful and committed, two vital qualities in our line of work. As time goes on, we’re considering the possibility of continuing this legacy through the generations.

It’s important to note that while Hafız Mustafa 1864 has been serving, we’ve always respected and appreciated our dedicated team members who have worked alongside us. They carry our ethos and identity proudly. From a humble beginning with just six people, we’ve grown to a workforce of six hundred. We’ve even expanded our operations abroad, with a successful venture in Dubai, employing around 110-120 staff.

In fact, we took some of our shop assistants and skilled artisans, whom I personally trained in Istanbul, to Dubai, where they excelled. We consider ourselves role models in this sense. We don’t harbor ill feelings toward those who seek to imitate us, for we believe that if they improve and perfect their approach, they, too, can find success. Witnessing others achieve their goals brings us happiness, as we truly value the concept of success in all its forms.

 

What was the breaking point in Avni Ongurlar’s life?

Avni Ongurlar: Throughout my life, I’ve experienced both moments of immense joy and times of adversity. However, I’m unsure I can pinpoint a single “breaking point” in my life. I attribute this to my wonderful upbringing from my parents, who instilled in me strong values and a resilient character. Additionally, the guidance and mentorship of skilled masters, the support of true friends, and the blessings of a rich culture have all played pivotal roles in shaping my journey. I am thankful for these factors and look forward to the future with optimism, hoping that the next phase of my life will be marked by good health, success, and prosperity.

 

What is Avni Ongurlar’s philosophy of life?

Avni Ongurlar: My life philosophy revolves around maintaining a positive outlook and striving to live humanely and compassionately. I aim to provide the same nurturing and upbringing to my children, grandchildren, and relatives that I was fortunate to receive. Being an exemplary individual and leading by example are principles I hold dear, and they contribute to improving my life and the lives of those around me.