BRATTLEBORO — Hale Kiziltan didn't plan to manage a café, but when she opened the Tulip, she discovered her calling. Although she had no experience in the restaurant world, she had worked in her father's retail business for years, selling rugs, jewelry and accessories at Brilliance, on Putney Road and then in the Brooks House building on Main Street.
"We always worked in the store," she recalled. "It's just how we made a living. Just like you might tell your child to run errands — you have to help in the store on weekends and during breaks and sometimes after school."
Kiziltan graduated from Leland and Gray High School in 2000 and went to the University of Vermont for a couple of years.
"I took a break but never ended up going back," she said. "If you're going to spend that kind of money, you have to be sure you're going to make a career out of it, and at the time I didn't have my heart set on anything in particular, so I worked retail with my dad for years. I was here through the fire [at the Brooks House], and then we moved the store to Elliot Street.
"We waited for the Brooks House to rebuild so we could build our store back, but in the meantime I got sick of doing of retail," she went on. "I said to my dad, 'I'm going to Connecticut to stay with my sister and see what else is out there.' I told him I would work though Christmas and see what happens."
In the meantime, her father, Michael, noticed a business opportunity.
"So one day we're driving back home and he goes, 'You know that location where Coffee Country used to be? That is such a great location. Who's going to run it?'" she remembered. "So I went from going to Connecticut and taking classes to, 'Sure – we'll open a café there and I'll run it – great.'"
"We opened in March 2013," she continued. "I had no experience running a restaurant, not to mention working a commercial kitchen. I'm not alone — my mom is working, my father is helping — everyone did their share; it's how we run a business. I can't take credit."
Kiziltan said the family dynamic works well for her.
"I've never worked for anybody else in my life, so I don't know what it's like to work for anybody else," she said with a laugh. "I attempted to, and I ended up opening a café! In terms of partnering in business, I feel like my father and I are a match made in heaven.
"I don't know how it works, but somehow it works," she said. "We disagree, but at the end of the day we always agree on something that works for us."
Others were skeptical about the menu she planned.
"When we were opening, I said I wanted to have crepes, and my dad said, 'Let me know, because I'm buying the equipment,'" she explained. "Neighbors told me, 'People aren't going to like crepes,' but they're so popular that sometimes I run out of grill space. And my dad didn't think I should put olive paste in the breakfast sandwiches, but I said, 'I'll put it in, and if they don't like it they can remove it' – and now those are some of the most popular items. People around here are adventurous. They may have limited exposure, but they're adventurous."
As Michael Kiziltan moved his business back into the rebuilt Brooks House, he saw another business opportunity.
"He looked at the space where Turquoise Grille is, and he wanted to move the café there — Main Street, a better location. So I looked at it, but no way — it doesn't get enough sun," Hale Kiziltan commented. "It's a great location but not for a café that needs to be open, with light."
At that time she was engaged to Declan O'Donnell, and she wondered if he wanted to join the business as he joined the family.
"I went to my dad and said, 'If you want to do something else there, we could,'" she remembered. "He's just such an entrepreneur. Once he decides to do something he won't back down — no way. So he said, 'There's three of us — you, me, and your mom, but who's going to help with that one?' I said, 'Declan will — let me ask him.' So Declan was sitting at the café having his coffee, and I said, 'Here's the situation. I don't want to move the café, my father is sold on a restaurant, would you be interested in helping run it?' He was, totally. He called and got the lease agreement prepared the next day."
She waited to move the Tulip until the right space opened on Main Street.
"I always wanted move the café to Main," she explained. "Not that I didn't like the other location. Locals knew me, but I missed out on the tourists. They come to town and walk away from the Harmony Lot. They might notice you or might not notice you, and the kitchen was very small, so I couldn't expand the menu the way I wanted to.
"I had my heart set on this location," she said. "We moved to change the way we operate, and generally the response has been positive."
At the new Tulip, only takeout customers go to the counter, while everyone else has table service.
"No more waiting in line," Kiziltan said. "People who are getting food to go don't have to wait in line behind other people who are eating in — so it's quicker service for them, and quicker service for the diners.
"The best part of it is our regular clientele," she concluded. "People who come here regularly feel like it's their home away from home. Your interactions with them are not just like business. It's more like you're kind of hosting and they're your guests. They also build relationships with your staff. The person remembers exactly how you like your latte and they take care of you."
Maggie Brown Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.