By Alan Madlane
Balkan House is a restaurant literally located inside a large, converted house on a main street in downtown Hamtramck.
The site has actually had several restaurants try their hand within its walls, but this one seems to have captured the fancy of the local foodie crowd.
Particularly with its Doner Kebab sandwich, a concoction similar in ways to a traditional gyro, but with important differences.
We asked owner Juma Ekic a few questions by email about the excitement surrounding her venture.
The Review: First, let me say congratulations on the great press you’ve gotten so far in the Free Press, the Detroit News and the Metro Times, to name just a few.
There have been several versions of a Bosnian-cuisine themed restaurant in your location in recent years. How did Balkan House come to be in this space? Do you own the house yourself? Do you live in it as well?
Juma Ekic: Hello, and thank you so much! The previous businesses have nothing to do with Balkan House, therefore I do not know much about them. We do not own the house, and we do not live upstairs –although it would be cool! For now, we are just leasing the space (since we like the concept of it being in a “house” type building — we believe it fits our name just right)!
The Review: Why do you think your restaurant is succeeding, where others in this same space seem to have had so much difficulty making a go of it?
Ekic: This is our passion; we don’t do it just for the money like most other places. We take pride in our food and we enjoy what we do, and in return this motivates us to keep going, and to be getting better.
The Review: Did you or your business partners have any prior experience with the restaurant industry before this? Anything in the Detroit area? If so, were these places similar in concept to Balkan House, or not? What became of those establishments?
Ekic: I have been working in the restaurant business my whole life, however I never owned one, and I’ve never been part of anything like Balkan house before. This is unique!
The Review: Why Hamtramck for your restaurant?
Ekic: This is the whole world in two square miles! We love being a restaurant that serves ethnic food, and what better place to fit in then Hamtramck. We lived here for 20 years, and enjoy being around the different cultures and backgrounds! And we want Hamtramck to be known for great food from all around the world.
The Review: You do not yet have a liquor license; do you have any plans to try to acquire one?
Ekic: No liquor; we serve halal food, and alcohol is not a part of our business plan.
The Review: Your menu is not yet featured on your website. Do you plan to put it up soon, or are you still adjusting it?
Ekic: We are still working on the website, however, once completed, the menu will be up.
The Review: It was mentioned that you do try to combine more standard American-style diner fare with Eastern European menu items. Assuming that’s an accurate description, is it about 50/50, or does your menu lean one way or the other more heavily?
Ekic: We take the best of both, and combine them to give our customers a unique experience! It is our own thing!
The Review: Tell us what you can about your Doner kebab sandwich (without giving too much away, recipe-wise) – is it an old family recipe, or where did it come from? Do you make it for your own family too, and if so, do they love it as much as the general public seems to?
Ekic: After the war in Bosnia, we fled to Germany, and this is where the Doner kebab was introduced to us by the German Turks. Everyone does it a little different, however the spices in the sauce and meat are the same, but the techniques used to prepare everything may vary. We also respect folks who do not eat meat, but would enjoy our yummy sauce; in response, we put in our own twist, and created a veggie Doner for our vegetarian friends to enjoy.
Yes, we do make it for our own family. As I mentioned before, we fell in love with this sandwich a long time ago, and sharing it with others — including our family — is our passion. We like to see people enjoy it! It makes us happy!
The Review: If your restaurant takes off like it seems poised to do, do you think you will try to add more locations around the Detroit area? If so, where might you go next?
Ekic: We are interested in expanding in the future, however the location is still TBD. But we love Detroit as much as Hamtramck!
The Review: Please feel free to add anything else you’d like to!
Ekic: We just want to say thank you for everyone’s support — our customers are like our family, and they are always welcome at Balkan House. Never once did we doubt that people would love the Döner as much as we do, and we are extremely happy to share our delicious experience with our respected customers! Thank you!
Balkan House, located at 3028 Caniff, is open seven days a week, normally. Their hours are Mon. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. as well. Call (313) 262-6234.
Aug. 9, 2019