Preston brothers Nez and Niyazi Bircek, the former chef and owner of Totto’s, began serving their Turkish menu at the Mediterranean cafe in Fishergate last week. Customer favourites like Turkish meatballs, tapas and meze (cold and hot starters followed by a mixed kebab main), will be whipped up from 5 – 9pm from Monday to Thursday, and from 5pm - 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The siblings were forced to close their restaurant after 20 years in business following the Covid-19 pandemic. That is when Halit Egrice, Nez’s friend and owner of La Viva, invited them to be part of his team and cook their dishes for his customers.
Nez, 54, said: “I’ve known Halit for a long time. He said, ‘Your shop has closed, you aren’t doing anything; come serve your food here. We are trying it here for three months, six months. If you don’t try, you won’t know [if it will work]. We have one choice.”
Nez and his 52-year-old brother settled in York when they first came to England from Istanbul, before moving on to Preston.
“We came together to visit my friend and we liked it here. We were in York, then we found a restaurant here and decided to buy the venue in Fleet Street,” said Nez.
“For the first five years it was busy but from 2010 after the recession, it was very quiet, and during the pandemic it was very quiet and we closed.”
But while Totto’s remains shut, the legacy of its menu lives on at La Viva.
Commenting on the feedback on his food from La Viva customers, Nez said: “They said it has been very nice, and that the cafe is nice.”
Former Totto’s customers who have been waiting to try the brothers’ food again have shown their support by visiting the cafe, according to Nez. He added: “They said after two years they have missed the food.”
Sonia Foltanova, of Slovakia, and Amelia Fitzgerald, also worked for Totto’s before it closed and have joined the La Viva team. Sonia was employed there for a decade while Amelia was there for five years.