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Turkish restaurant in the Upper Valley aims to help those affected by recent earthquakes

Tuckerbox restaurant's kitchen staff can be seen preparing food through a wall window food for patrons. A waitstaff operates a point of sale system on the other side of the kitchen window while restaurant guests sit beneath a wall decoration that says "Learn Turkish" behind the waitstaff.jpg
Tuckerbox Restaurant
Tuckerbox recently opened up to breakfast, lunch and dinner dining hours after a basement flood ruined their dining area floor.

After their restaurant flooded in August, community support enabled the owners of Tuckerbox, a Turkish restaurant in the Upper Valley, to reopen. Now, they’re teaming up with others in the community to help victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria with a fundraiser this weekend that will feature food, live music and wines from Anatolia, Turkey.

“We import a tremendous amount of ingredients from Turkey that we used for cooking in our restaurant,” Jackie Oktay said. “A lot of those ingredients are sourced from the area[s] that are hit by the earthquake. We have bits and pieces of the area in everything that we cook here.”

Vural Oktay was born and raised in Istanbul Turkey and came to New England to work in food services on a visa when he was 22. Eventually, he and his wife Jackie opened up the restaurant in White River Junction, Vermont, in November 2013. They serve the kind of Turkish food that Vural grew up with, like lentil soups, Turkish teas and döner kebab.

In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Vural said he has been able to get back in contact with family and friends in Istanbul, as well as others near the affected areas. Some family friends have died as a result of the earthquakes, he said, while others have survived.

When news of the earthquake broke, the Oktays planned on hosting a fundraiser to help.

Their efforts to give back to those affected by the earthquakes come after a months-long process of rebuilding at Tuckerbox, after a basement flood in August 2022 left them facing extensive subfloor damage and layers of mud. In trying to rescue items in the basement, Jackie said the mud damaged the first floor dining area.

Through an outpouring of donations — $70,000 from supporters and the surrounding community — they were able to rebuild their establishment and reopen their restaurant with dinner hours in October, while they continued construction during the day. They restored breakfast and lunch hours in late January.

“In a way this is a story of two disasters,” said Jim Zien, who is also helping to organize this weekend's fundraiser. “One, nowhere near the magnitude of what happened in Turkey and Syria, but nevertheless very consequential for both Vural and Jackie and the community, when that restaurant went offline for one day and didn't come back on for quite a few months ‘til they could rebuild it.”

Without the donations and support the Oktays received in the past to reopen Tuckerbox, Zien said this weekend’s event might not have been able to take place: “We wouldn't be having this event now to help people in Turkey to recover from an absolute devastating catastrophe.”

The fundraiser will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Tuckerbox. It will feature music by Baglama player Tuna Akmehmet, a freshman at Dartmouth College who grew up in Ankara, Turkey.

Berklee College of Music Associate Professor Craig Macrae will also play with his band, Za’atar. Macrae said that given how devastating the earthquakes have been, he wanted to contribute.

“It’s great to be able to give something back,” he said.

Donations are being collected via a GoFundMe, and Zien said the proceeds will go to the Turkish Foundation of Anatolian People and Peace. All wine and food costs will be covered by the Oktays and any donations that have been made to help the fundraiser take place.

Olivia joins us from WLVR/Lehigh Valley Public Media, where she covered the Easton area in eastern Pennsylvania. She has also reported for WUWM in Milwaukee and WBEZ in Chicago.