Gökhan Cifci’s journey to Kingston is one of those classic ‘boy meets girl’ stories.
Gökhan started his career in the restaurant industry in his home country of Turkey, but wanted to apply his trade in another setting.Gökhan Cifci’s journey to Kingston is one of those classic ‘boy meets girl’ stories. Gökhan started his career in the restaurant industry in his home country of Turkey, but wanted to apply his trade in another setting. He decided to try a life at sea and worked on cruise ships for several years. That is where he met his wife, Sarah.
As the relationship matured, the couple returned to Turkey so Gökhan could finish his degree in Restaurant, Travel & Tourism. Two years later, they came to Canada to be close to Sarah’s family and to start their own business.
During his first few months after arrival, Gökhan helped his in-laws with their sheep farm in Athens, Ontario. His passion for the restaurant business had not gone away but he was having trouble finding work as he was overqualified for most positions.
After months of searching, he eventually found work and within a few years, he was a bartender at a downtown restaurant called Tango. That ended on one fateful day in 2013.
“Tango shut its doors in January 2013,“ he said. “Sarah and I discussed options and started making business plans. We took over the space in May and spent two months renovating.“
The newly renamed Tango Nuevo re-opened with 13 employees in July of 2013. Gökhan’s time in the local restaurant scene helped him put together a strong team, which included his wife as the Marketing Manager and his sister, Hediye, who migrated from Turkey to join him. Nearly ten years later, nine of the original 13 employees are still with him. He now employs 55 people.
Named one of Open Table’s top romantic restaurants in Canada in 2017, Tango Nuevo, continues to receive glowing reviews. The busy eatery boasts many repeat customers as well as drawing new guests from as far away as Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. However for Gökhan, owning Tango Nuevo is more than just producing a good meal.
“The ideas of a fusion tapas restaurant is still a different concept in Kingston, so we train our staff to explain what we are and try to educate our guests,” he said. “It‘s also important to me that we are consistently updating our look. We want to keep the fresh feeling alive for our guests, to have everyone feel like Tango Nuevo is new every time they come in. I feel there are still gaps in the local culinary scene and if we fill those gaps that will help attract more tourists.”
When Gökhan first presented his idea for a tapas bar to the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area, they were very supportive of bringing this style of restaurant to a relatively small city like Kingston. He enjoyed strong support from his fellow restauranteurs, something which Gökhan is proud to reciprocate.
“If you look at the mural on my wall, I am advertising every single independent small restaurant downtown,” he says. “I don’t look at other restaurants as competition because we all share the same pie and if we’re all stronger we’ll attract more people.”
Gökhan says in the years to come he and his team will be seeking to grow the company and tap into more opportunities in Kingston’s restaurant tourism sector. We are already seeing expansion, with the opening of Tango Nuevo’s sister restaurant, Mayla Concept, in 2021. Located just two doors down from Tango Nuevo, guests experience sophisticated, fusion cuisine, with a relaxed, upscale feel in their intimate dining room.