Suzan Helvaci, owner of Lale restaurant in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, has been serving delicious meals and fostering a sense of community for eight years. Lale's success can be attributed to its friendly and dedicated staff, who go above and beyond to make their customers feel welcome and appreciated. Suzan's vision was to establish a sense of community and longevity with her restaurant, leading to regulars who come in every day for breakfast and dinner and have become like old friends to the Lale staff.
Located in the Inner Sunset neighborhood, Lale has become a part of the community, hosting parties and witnessing the milestones of its customers' lives. For Suzan, Lale is not just a restaurant, but a place where people come to connect and feel a sense of belonging. She recalls starting Lale after feeling empathic exhaustion from working as a therapist in the nonprofit field. Opening a restaurant was her dream, and now she's living it, creating a space where people can come together and enjoy delicious food.
Suzan's journey to success is one of grit and perseverance. Originally from Turkey, she came to the United States to pursue her studies in psychology. After working in the nonprofit sector for six years, Suzan felt the burden of empathic exhaustion and decided to explore other career paths. With a lifelong dream of owning a restaurant, she took the leap and opened her own establishment in the Inner Sunset.
The first year of business was challenging, as Suzan not only had to navigate the ins and outs of running a restaurant but also found out she was pregnant. Despite the challenges, she persevered and continued to work long hours in the restaurant. The first four years of running the restaurant were intense, as Suzan and her husband worked tirelessly to keep the business afloat. They took few breaks and even went years without a vacation. However, their hard work paid off, as they built a loyal customer base and established their restaurant as a staple in the Inner Sunset community.
"Hospitality is really important to us. When people come, we try to bring that Mediterranean Turkish hospitality. If you go to a Turkish country and visit any house, you'll be greeted really warmly. So we try to really put that here. And then, especially being in a neighborhood, that's really important. And we wanted a neighborhood, we didn't want to just be in like a touristic destination." explains Suzan.
When COVID-19 hit, Suzan and her team faced even greater challenges. However, they rose to the occasion and provided food to hospital workers, shelters, and senior housing facilities. Suzan and her team were part of the frontline effort to provide meals to those in need, and they did so with grace and determination.
Now, with the worst of the pandemic behind them, Suzan's restaurant is thriving once again. Her story is one of resilience, determination, and a true passion for food and hospitality. Suzan’s impressive journey is a reminder that with hard work and perseverance, anything is possible.