Plant-Based, Protein-Rich

Vegan Community Kitchen brings the
Mediterranean menus of Turkey to Apex.

By Lipsa Shah / Photography by Patrick Sheehan

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Vegan food is the newest addition to Plaza 55’s strip mall in Apex. Not just any vegan food, though—Turkish vegan food, which has a cuisine that is typically very “meat-heavy.” Since opening in January, Sadiye Sezenol and Cansu Sarcan, the mother-daughter team that owns the restaurant, have been consistently waking up at 5:30 AM to prepare handmade “meats” daily. The vegan proteins include kebabs, burgers, and gyros all made from grains, vegetables, and flour.

Sezenol, her husband, Akin, and Cansu moved from northwest Turkey to Cary in 2010; and in 2014, Akin was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of lymphoma. Before he passed, Akin’s dietitian recommended that he follow a protein-heavy vegan diet, so Sezenol dedicated her time to creating wonderful dishes for her husband. She made him fresh green juice daily and began substituting seitan for their meat.

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During that time, in 2012, her family opened their first Community Kitchen in Istanbul. Her sister, Oya Toris, remains in Turkey and runs that restaurant, which is also dedicated to 100 percent vegan food, with a plant-based Mediterranean menu centered around organic grains. 

Turkish food, similar to many other Mediterranean dishes, already includes several vegan dishes. Upon walking into the Vegan Community Kitchen in Apex, you are welcomed by a display case filled with colorful options including pasta salads, kale salads, baba ghanoush, and hummus. While Turkish food is the staple at Vegan Community Kitchen, Sezenol has also taken her local Southern community into consideration by adding options such as mac and cheese, loaded sweet potatoes, and burgers.

It is Vegan Community Kitchen’s goal to make vegan cuisine fun and delicious for all—skeptics included—and also make it affordable. Sezenol feels that diners should not need to break the bank while making their health a priority. Additionally, Sezenol prides herself on keeping everything in her kitchen 100 percent vegan. Many restaurants that serve vegan menus also offer meat items, which brings on the risk of cross contamination. In Sezenol’s kitchen there are absolutely no animal products, and she has plans for the kitchen to become fully kosher, as well.

And opening a restaurant is an enormous time commitment and a giant investment, but Sezenol explains that this has been her dream for years. Guests are able to visibly see the delight and excitement on her face as she discusses her passion for food, community, and combining both of them together in the space she has created. 

Sadiye sezenol (right) with her mother cansu sarcan (left)

Sadiye sezenol (right) with her mother cansu sarcan (left)