Golden business across the Aegean Sea

The Izmir Chamber of Commerce recently invited Greek journalists to discuss the outlook for Greek-Turkish ties. Ekrem Demirtas, president of the chamber since 1992 and a champion of closer cooperation in tourism and trade, sees great opportunities for Greece and Turkey in the strengthening of relations between the two countries. «In 1992, commercial exchanges between the two countries amounted to just 250 million dollars, while today it’s close to 4 billion,» he said. Greek bureaucracy, however, presents a serious obstacle to Turkish investments, with businessmen complaining that it can take up to a year to start up a company in Greece – which probably explains why there are presently just 10 Turkish companies operating in Greece, in contrast to the 360 Greek businesses in Turkey. It appears that the Greeks who decided to expand their economic activities to the other side of the Aegean are reaping the rewards in a market 70 million strong. «We used to travel quite a bit to Izmir with friends and we always felt welcome,» says Nektarios Menegas, a businessman from Chios operating in Turkey. On these trips to Turkey, Menegas and fellow travelers Christoforos Krimizis and Nikolaos Tsichlas were struck by the fact that they couldn’t get a cold «frappe» iced coffee anywhere. «We therefore started thinking about opening a coffee shop, where, apart from frappe, one could also try sweets from Chios.» The three friends soon went into business together. «The timing was perfect. When we decided to set up our company in Turkey, a law had just been passed stipulating that you did not need local partners in order to start up a venture in Turkey,» explains Menegas. The process was simple: «It took just one day.» The coffee shop was named «Sakiz Adasi,» the Turkish name for Chios, and it specializes in products made with mastic resin, a trademark Chios product and a major export. Sakiz Adasi also works with Mastihashop, a Chios-based franchise promoting locally made products. «The music is Greek due to popular demand,» says Menegas, laughing. «The music was mixed but our regulars complained: They were in a Greek coffee shop and they wanted Greek music.» Sakiz Adasi came to be ranked the second most popular coffee shop in the area by city guide Its popularity also inspired other Greek islanders to expand their business ventures to the Turkish coast. A different atmosphere Iosif Iosifidis, a Greek from Asia Minor, returned to his place of birth in Istanbul later in life to open a branch of his Thessaloniki-based business, which manufactures photo albums and gift items. «The atmosphere in Greek-Turkish relations is far better than I remembered it in 1979.» Iosifidis’s strongest card was his knowledge of Turkish. « I doubt I would have done the same in Bulgaria, as I don’t speak the language. But I didn’t choose the Turkish capital simply for sentimental reasons but also because it is such a rich source of raw materials. I have been spending four days a week there for the five past years.» Having a Greek passport is considered an «in» by 31-year-old Avgoustinos Gleoudis, who moved to Izmir a year ago and works as a manager for a Turkish company owned by a Greek group. «I had no ties to Turkey; for me, it was simply a professional challenge. The working conditions are similar to Greece but the pace is different and I often have to work from morning to night.»