From a holiday romance to the food of love

With Valentine’s Day this weekend, romance is in the air and few stories are more romantic than Ruth and Faruk Gunay’s whose holiday romance led to a complete life change. Catherine Scott reports.

Ruth and Frank Gunay
Ruth and Frank Gunay

It may sound like any holiday romance. Girl goes on trip with friends to the sun, meets handsome local on the beach, they have a fling and then keep in touch for a while and then forget about each other.

The difference with Ruth and Faruk Gunay’s story is that they didn’t forget about each other – far from it. Ruth gave up her job and life in England to move to Turkey to be with Faruk and the couple had two children.

Then five years ago they returned to Ruth’s home of Sheffield and started a successful Turkish restaurant.

“It was a last minute girly holiday,” explains Ruth, now 40. “I dashed to a travel agent at lunchtime from my office in London and was offered two breaks: a party week in Ibiza or a cheap week in Turkey for £179.

“My good friend Flora from Sheffield and I had booked the same week off work and she persuaded me to try Turkey where I had never fancied going. The idea was a quiet break, so Ibiza was out and I reluctantly agreed.”

Ruth remembers vividly arriving from the airport for the first time along the winding coastal road.

“It later became my journey to work and then the road I brought my new-born children home from hospital along.”

Faruk had recently come out of the army, where he had served as a commando.

It was July when Ruth found herself on the Turkish beach where Faruk was managing the water sports centre at his brother’s beach club.

“Faruk spotted me and tried to get his sales boys to get me to do water skiing which didn’t work,” says Ruth. “Eventually he got me and my friend to come out on the boat. We got to talking and got on well – we both knew there was a spark. Later I discovered he had told his brother that he was going to marry me after two days.”

When Ruth returned to the UK the pair kept in touch over the phone and she went back six weeks later for two weeks at the end of August to see if she had been right about the spark. They ran the watersports together every day and became inseparable.

“I came home and again, we were ringing all the time. Christmas that year, 1998, I flew out to Istanbul and we spent a week there before celebrating the new year on the Mediterranean coast.”

Back in the UK in grey gloomy January, Ruth returned to her career wondering whether she could take the massive step she was contemplating.

It was actually a night out with work colleagues that made up Ruth’s mind.

“I went out for a drink after work one night at the beginning of February. As the evening wore on, I realised they weren’t nice people – to each other or about others and I had had a really miserable evening. I had a degree in Business Studies and French. I was on the way to my Masters. I had a secure job and flat. I wanted to go back to Faruk.” Within weeks she left her job. “I rationalised it to myself and family by treating it as the gap year I hadn’t had – I was 24 and some of my peers were still sitting in tree houses in Thailand, after all. In the end I agreed with Faruk, why shouldn’t I spend the summer with him in Turkey?”

Ruth’s parents weren’t overjoyed by their daughter’s news, but they didnt try to stop her.

“They arrived a couple of months later ‘on holiday’ to see what I was up to and were pleasantly surprised – they liked Faruk. I think it was actually harder on Faruk’s family. He is the youngest of five and the others were all married, they struggled with us living together as it wasn’t at all common in Turkey, and still isn’t.”

After a year spending time in each other’s countries, Ruth decided to take a teacher training course at the British Council in Istanbul and was able to register with the Turkish Ministry of Education as an English teacher and worked in a private primary school. “I wanted a job, to be able to support myself properly,” says Ruth. “I still couldn’t quite see how it was going to work. I couldn’t spend my entire time on the beach and so I needed a career.”

Faruk had moved away from water sports and had two restaurants in Kemer.

They married in 2001 and had two daughters, Yasemin, now eight, and Esma, 12.

“Once Esma was approaching school age, we decided we wanted to leave the tourist resort and started considering the alternatives. We both kept coming back to the idea of Sheffield and so we applied for a school place. We were lucky that the birth rate was low that year and we got one. I also had a relative who needed a house-sitter and things started to fall in to place. I am normally quite a cynical person and not sure I believe in fate, but I do believe we make the most of every opportunity.”

With so much experience of Turkish cuisine and restaurants, Ruth and Faruk spotted a gap in the market for a meze restaurant.

They called it Lokanta, which is simply Turkish for restaurant.

“Our premises in Broomhill came on the market in 2009 and we opened just before Christmas that year. This past year was our fifth anniversary. Four Good Food Guide entries, a huge amount of hard work, trials and triumphs... but we have never looked back. I am so glad I let my friend persuade me not to go to Ibiza.

“I could not have been more surprised to meet the man I went on to marry on that holiday.

“I was a London career girl on what seemed like a set path, I certainly wasn’t looking to make any big changes.

“I was a management trainee at the London School of Economics and working for a masters degree in HR; I had just gone away to relax and recharge with an old friend and ended up falling in love.”