Meet Restaurateur Turgut Balikci of BELLA LUNA on the Upper West Side
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of dining at Bella Luna on the Upper West Side in early 2020 where we enjoyed an excellent dinner. A fixture on Columbus Avenue, Bella Luna offers the quintessential Italian dining experience. Their menu has a selection of delicious food prepared by truly talented professionals along with a wonderfully curated wine list.
The popular restaurant now continues to serve the neighborhood with pick up and delivery services. We are sure that Bella Luna's dedicated patrons look forward to visiting the restaurant once again when it reopens for dining.
Our readers will like to know more about owner, Turget Balikci who founded Bella Luna in 1988. The Turkish restaurateur has successfully developed 20 European-influenced and Mediterranean-inspired restaurants including the former Diva on West Broadway and his acclaimed Upper West Side Mediterranean spot, Bodrum.
Turget kindly answered our questions about his background and Bella Luna.
When did you first realize that you were destined for a career in the restaurant business?
I first knew I was destined for a career in the restaurant business when I was 12 years old. I lived above a restaurant in Istanbul and once I started working there I knew it was going to be my life's work. Working in that restaurant gave me opportunities to meet a lot of people from different cultures and taught me early on about the art of hospitality - great your guests with good food, a good time, and good wine.
Bella Luna has been a neighborhood favorite for over three decades. Why do you think it has been so very successful?
Bella Luna's success is credited to its loyal neighborhood following. We bring great hospitality and cuisine to the community and they love us for it. The restaurant works closely with its guests and prides itself on establishing and maintaining relationship early on. We are fortunate to be here since 1988 and have grown deep roots in this neighborhood so much so that we see generations of families coming to our restaurant.
Tell us a little about the team that makes Bella Luna happen.
Our team here is very important. Our manager, Angela Noll has been working with me for five years and runs the floor as well as our selection of wines. Our Executive Chef German "Primo" Angelo has been at the helm for over a decade, and of course my managing partner Guray Yuksel helps make this place run. Our team is also made up of an incredibly loyal wait staff -when the restaurant moved almost every waiter came with. People love the waitstaff and they have a loyal following in the community.
The interior of Bella Luna is both charming and unique. We'd love to know more about the beautiful large mural that you discovered and preserved.
When we talk about our mural, we like to call it "a miracle." During the demolition we found beautiful wood behind the wall and at the top we saw something that looked like a painting. I instructed the team to slowly take down the wood and we discovered this incredible mural of central park in Autumn with only a little damage. After some research, we believe it was created in the 1930s. It's become a big part of the restaurant and the overall design of the place.
Why do you think guests keep coming back to Bella Luna?
Bella Luna is a pillar of the community. The restaurant is a reliable place for authentic Italian food that has a strong reputation in the city. We are a happy place for all people that doesn't hit too hard on the wallet. We like to think of ourselves as the heart of the community and a place where everyone comes and enjoys our food.
As a successful restaurateur, you must get a lot of opportunities to enjoy top cuisine. Do you have a go-to meal?
When it comes to meals for myself, I like to keep things simple. Although New York City offers a variety of great cuisines and dishes, a nice meatballs and sausage in a Bolognese sauce with rigatoni does the trick for me.
You have a great wine program curated by one of your staff members, Angela. What are some of your favorite wine and food pairings?
We are very proud of the wine program that Angela has curated. Her excellent selections pair perfectly with our menu. Some of our favorite pairings include our Chianti Colli Sensai, Cesani Tuscany, IT which we like to pair with any of our red sauce pasta selections and meat dishes.
What else would you like Broadwayworld Food and Wine readers to know?
Bella Luna is everyone's restaurant. It's a place that services the community and those looking for authentic Italian cuisine on the UWS. All are welcome who are looking to enjoy our atmosphere, cuisine, and community.
Read our recent review of Bella Luna: /bwwfood-wine/article/BWW-Review-BELLA-LUNA-on-the-UWS-An-Italian-Restaurant-to-Treasure-20200226.
Bella Luna is located at 574 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10024. Visit their web site at https://www.bellalunanyc.com/ or call 212.877.2267.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Turgut Balikci and Bella Luna