Janette Burk and Timur Keskinturk are fighting to keep their coffee shop location in Alderwood mall. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Janette Burk and Timur Keskinturk are fighting to keep their coffee shop location in Alderwood mall. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A Turkish café served coffee next to Starbucks. They were told to move.

After years, Kismet Turkish Cafe Bakery’s owners say they were told to relocate in Alderwood mall due to a nearby Starbucks kiosk.

LYNNWOOD — Janette Burk and Timur Keskinturk dug deep into their pockets when they opened their first business together at Alderwood mall in Lynnwood.

It was a costly investment. The couple built a high-end $150,000 kiosk and paid more than $6,000 a month to rent their space — but the central location they were offered fit their vision and business model to a T.

Burk and Keskinturk opened Kismet Turkish Cafe & Bakery in 2019. The couple bakes their own Turkish pastries like spinach and feta “borek.” They fly in premium Turkish delights from Istanbul.

And they serve Turkish coffee.

The small business shared the court area with a Starbucks kiosk, which has been at Alderwood mall since 2007. As part of an agreement, Kismet could not sell espresso-based drinks and ground or whole bean coffee by weight.

Kismet’s Turkish coffee drinks are a huge selling point. And they differ from Starbucks coffee and espresso-based drinks, Burk said. Turkish coffee is distinctively rich, condensed, pleasantly bittersweet and often converts the sugar and creamer crowd into black coffee die-hards.

They didn’t worry about competition from the neighboring coffee chain giant.

But 3½ years after Kismet opened, mall management told Burk and Keskinturk they needed to move. Initially, Kismet was to be relocated inside the food court — a much noisier area in a corner of the mall, away from the center court where they grew their sales year after year. They were given a month’s notice and little explanation.

“We already made our investment,” Burk said. “We don’t want to have to reinvest in a new location.”

Kismet would not be able to provide the same coffee shop experience or relaxing atmosphere to customers inside the food court, its owners said. The central location provided steady foot traffic as well as bright skylights and an airy feel, perfect for pulling up to the cafe bar for a quick cup of coffee and a fresh pastry — and the location was a big reason why the couple made a leap of faith with their investment.

“We would not have opened at Alderwood mall had we been offered that location,” Burk said of the food court.

“This is really putting a burden on us,” she added, tearing up.

The couple told The Daily Herald they believe Starbucks is a major reason behind why they are being forced to relocate. Last week, they went to social media, posting “Kismet vs. Starbucks” on Kismet’s Facebook page and urging followers to sign a petition against the move on change.org. Within a week, the petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

“I’ve visited the cafe, and Starbucks is NEVER suffering for customers,” one Kismet customer posted on Facebook. “But pushing out locally owned independent cafes (while claiming they’re not—so two-faced) is a tactic I’ve seen Starbucks run for decades.”

A Starbucks spokesperson denied any involvement in the decision to move Kismet, stating any claims that Starbucks is pushing them out or forcing the cafe to relocate are “wholly untrue.”

“The request to relocate Kismet to a different area in the mall came directly from Alderwood Mall,” the Starbucks spokesperson told The Herald. “At no point did Starbucks ask Kismet or Alderwood Mall to relocate. Starbucks and Kismet have shared that space with no issues.”

However, in an email chain Burk forwarded to the Herald, an Alderwood mall manager told the couple that Starbucks had sent in a notice indicating Kismet was “violating their exclusive” by selling and advertising flavored lattes.

“We have been through this time and time again. You need to remove the signage immediately and cease selling flavored lattes,” the manager wrote to Kismet’s owners in late November 2021. “Failure to do so will result in the termination of your license agreement. We can no longer tolerate this.”

The Daily Herald recited this email to the Starbucks spokesperson, who declined to comment but asked for a copy of the email.

In a May 24 statement to the Herald, a Starbucks spokesperson reiterated the company’s stance: “The decision and request to relocate Kismet to a different area in the mall came directly from Brookfield Properties, and at no point did Starbucks assert any right to move or to compel Brookfield Properties to move Kismet’s business.”

In the email chain from last year, Burk told the manager that Kismet was not violating their license agreement by selling flavored lattes, as they were not espresso-based drinks. The manager responded that they could sell “Turkish ‘lattes,’” but could not display latte signage.

Nationwide, other locally owned mom-and-pop businesses have been barred by landlords from selling certain items due to exclusivity clauses with nearby Starbucks locations. In 2018, a specialty boba tea shop in California was banned from selling tea-based drinks to go. The owner was told he had violated an “exclusive sale clause that Starbucks had signed with the landlord,” according to a CBS Sacramento story.

Per their license agreement, Burk and Keskinturk were aware that they could be moved at any moment, as long as management gave at least five days’ notice. Alderwood mall extended that notice to a month, giving the couple until May 31 to move their business.

“While it’s our corporate policy not to discuss the details of specific agreements with our tenants and licensees, we can say that the great majority of our license agreements with kiosks and temporary tenants contain a relocation clause that gives us the right to relocate these businesses,” stated a spokesperson for Brookfield Properties, the mall owner. “This is very common within the industry and relocations are routine. All businesses that operate under such license agreements, including Kismet Turkish Cafe, are made aware of this upfront.”

Burk said they were aware of the risk.

“We understand that it is in the license agreement, but we had the sense that they were not going to (move us),” she said. “They said that we brought variety and that’s why they wanted us here.”

The spokesperson added that Brookfield Properties cannot comment on conversations or leasing agreements with Starbucks: “We do our best to work with our business partners to ensure a successful transition to their new location, and have tried working with Kismet to find the best alternative space at the center for their business.”

After several tense meetings with Alderwood mall management, the couple was offered a standalone location just outside the food court. It’s next to a Jamba Juice, which also sells coffee and tea drinks, as well as some baked goods.

As of Tuesday, Kismet’s owners were still fighting to keep their business inside the center court. They fear they won’t be able to afford the move — to relocate outside the mall, stay closed during the transition, retain their customers and invest in a new space.

“I don’t know why they are making us move at this point,” Burk said. “We don’t have more money to spend again. We’re reinvesting everything we had to get to this point.”

Taylor Goebel: 425-339-3046; taylor.goebel@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @TaylorGoebel.

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