Susa’s Ice Cream Café regulars cannot help but notice some significant changes at the popular confections shop – both in its appearance and offerings.
The booths that once lined the far wall are gone, replaced with three welcoming tables topped with assorted board games like Connect 4 and Trouble. Meanwhile, the freezers holding the shop’s expansive assortment of Hershey’s Ice Cream, flavors that include Strawberry Cheesecake and Oatmeal Cooking Craving, as well as an array of sorbets, have been joined by two large display cases containing a number of Turkish desserts, including a dozen different variations of baklava, and a colorful selection of lokum.
The culinary additions, which include traditional Turkish coffee, are courtesy of new owner Mustafa Kocaman; he bought the longtime ice cream shop located in the shopping center near the Morehead Road and Highway 49 South intersection from the Susa family in May 2018.
“In Turkey, we eat ice cream and baklava together, but American’s don’t know this,” says Mr. Kocaman, a friendly and sweet-natured individual, as he explains his reasoning for introducing such desserts to his new hometown of Harrisburg.
The freshly minted entrepreneur, who fled his native Turkey in 2016 and learned English by taking classes at Central Piedmont Community College – and from his riders when he worked nights as an Uber driver in Charlotte – says the two desserts complement one another perfectly.
“I say, ‘Family is very important because ice cream [is] wife, and baklava [is] husband,’ he says. “Together, they are a family,” he adds with a laugh.
An Easy Sell
The Turkish desserts were an immediate hit with customers, with Mr. Kocaman helping speed up the process by giving away free samples shortly after opening his doors. He started by introducing a single variety of his country’s traditional baklava, whose main ingredient is the Turkish pistachio as opposed to other versions of the dessert that prominently feature walnuts.
Today, he offers a dozen versions of baklava, including a few containing walnuts, in response to growing demand for them.
He has also introduced customers to Turkish lokum, another traditional Turkish dessert that features chopped nuts, including hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts, as well as fruits like lemon, orange and strawberry, in a gel that’s made from a starch and sugar mixture. Those are typically cut into small cubes, and then sliced again when enjoyed with a small cup of strong and savory Turkish coffee.
Mr. Kocaman explains that the Turkish pistachio, a much smaller and more expensive version of the nut, is what differentiates most of his country’s traditional desserts from others.
Though he can bake them himself, Mr. Kocaman currently lacks the equipment needed to make his desserts in-house. Instead, he buys them from suppliers based in the United States and Canada, and has them shipped to his shop. He next plans to introduce su boregi, also known as zamazingo, a traditional cheese pastry that’s also popular in his native Turkey.
Mr. Kocaman says he has been thrilled with the response of customers, many of whom have taken the time to provide positive feedback on popular restaurant review sites. And in nearly every instance, those leaving comments have expressed their pleasure in discovering his impressive selection of baklava, while also pointing out his ice cream shop’s cozy and welcoming atmosphere.
As for the main differences between Turks and Americans when it comes to their desserts, Mr. Kocaman makes an important observation – one that should benefit his business.
“In Turkey, we eat ice cream in summertime,” he says. “But Americans eat ice cream all of the time.”
SUSA’S ICE CREAM CAFE
- Address: 5092 Highway 49 S
- Phone: 980-258-8162
- Facebook: Susa’s Ice Cream Cafe
- Instagram: @SusasIceCreamCafe1
Hours of Operation
- Monday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Friday & Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Sunday: Noon to 9 p.m.