There’s a new sandwich in town and it’s about to eat New York. It’s called Kotti Döner Berliner Kebab. It took a Berlin native to notice that his beloved döner kebab was nowhere to be found in New York’s international pantry, and now he’s serving it at Brooklyn’s new DeKalb Market Hall.
When he was growing up in the Kotti section of Berlin, the döner kebab was Erkan Emre’s favorite street food. He told us that the popular sandwich was originally introduced by a Turkish guest worker. Germany has a large population of Turkish immigrants who originally accounted for the widespread popularity of the sandwich. The delicious one-stop meal was soon sold throughout the city, and late-night revelers even revere it as a hangover cure.
Emre’s own father emigrated from Turkey, and Emre in turn immigrated to New York. Emre, who was working in real estate in Manhattan, became increasingly obsessed with introducing the ubiquitous Berlin street food to the Big Apple. It started as a hobby; Emre bought a vertical spit roaster and started making döner kebabs for friends who were so enthusiastic they egged him on to bigger things. Next, he invited 500 people to a restaurant to give it a test drive. He met up with Michael Stark, a former TriBeCa Grill sous chef (now vice president of manufacturing at Fresh Direct), and Emre convinced Stark to hop on a plane to Berlin and taste the döner kebab in its native habitat. It was love at first bite.[related]
Now partners, the two won a spot at the tightly curated Smorgasburg street food fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2016 and were soon feeding long lines of 300-400 eager fans. Fast forward to spring 2016: Kotti opened in the food hall in Industry City, the vast 35 acre development in 19 rehabilitated warehouses encompassing everything from big box stores to small startups in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn’s waterfront. He opened a second location in June in the DeKalb Market Hall in Downtown Brooklyn, where the muralist Damien Mitchell painted the back wall of his stall. And now he has his ambitious sights set on the upscale Hudson Eats in lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place. I’d like to open one on every college campus in the U.S.,” he told us, “but I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m suddenly employing 20 people and operating my kitchen with two shifts 20 hours a day.”
The addictive döner kebab is not a gyro, nor a shawarma. Don’t be confused. Emre’s döner kebab is distinguished by the use of free-range, all-natural, certified humane, vegetarian-fed chicken which is marinated overnight in a secret blend of 15 secret Kotti spices (there’s definitely a hint of cumin in there), and a slew of roasted local, pesticide-free vegetables including summer squash, zucchini, potatoes, and carrots. It’s tucked into a freshly baked focaccia-like Turkish pide bread specially baked by a New Jersey bakery, then topped with pickled cabbage, onion, lettuce, tomato-cucumber mix, and crumbled feta cheese, and served with a choice of two sauces, one a spicy red harissa and the other a cool white garlic and dill infused yogurt. A salad version is also available, and Emre just invented a “döner cone.” “I thought, if ice cream can be served in a cone, a döner could be served in a cone,” he said. The duo also recently added a döner burger (served on a pretzel bun in honor of Stark’s hometown near Stuttgart, Germany, the birthplace of the pretzel).
Emre make a point of saying that he does not have a freezer and makes everything fresh every day. The menu states “Everything we serve is natural, farm raised, free of pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones, and non-GMO.” The classic döner is $12.76.
“I believe there is rising consumer demand for healthy, delicious food that’s good for you and good for the planet,” Emre declares. The popularity of his sandwich is proving him right.