Restaurateur's shock death: 'A freight train of a man'

The death of well-known restaurateur Alex Isik has shocked the industry. Photo: Supplied
The death of well-known restaurateur Alex Isik has shocked the industry. Photo: Supplied
Alex Isik was like a freight train.

The doting father-of-two and owner of 15 popular restaurants always had something on the go and wasn't one to shy from hard work.

But the Auckland man who seemed unstoppable died at his home this week after suffering a massive heart attack shortly after a game of soccer.

His sudden death has stunned those who knew him.

Close friend Dionne Smith, who is also the operations manager of the Nazar Group, which runs his restaurants, said the 46-year-old was the last person she thought it would happen to.

"He was like a freight train. He said to me years ago, 'you can't stop a river getting from to the sea'. And he said, 'I'm the river and I'll get to the sea'. I just thought I need a piece of this. I need to be on this ride because he was just so inspirational."

"It didn't matter who it was in the restaurant, from kitchen porters to restaurant managers to our head chefs, he just inspired and motivated and held everybody together - all the business partners and investors, they were all held together. He just talked to everybody and coordinated everything."

Isik, and his wife Nigar Ivgen founded and ran the Nazar Group, which employs more than 230 staff and owns Deco Eatery in Titirangi, Devonport's Devon on the Wharf, Bodrum Kitchen and Market, Casablanca, NOA Chargrill and Burger, Ottoman Mezze Lounge, Ruby Eatery, Mozaik Cafe in Hamilton, Feriza's and Miss Istanbul.

Smith said Isik's positive attitude and ability to keep everyone working as a team came through in what had initially been a tough year for the company.

Despite the Covid-19 lockdowns, he had managed to avoid making anyone redundant.

While stressful to start with, it was like a reset button for Isik who used the time to plan his next ventures and figure out how to grow the business, she said.

Smith said the title on his business card summed him up well - "entrepreneur and dreamer".

"We were always working on a new project. He always had something going on."

While Isik worked hard, he didn't see it as work, she said.

"He truly loved the craft of hospitality. I think so many people have forgotten what the craft was. Hospitality is all about being hospitable and that's their culture - hospitable. They feed you from the moment you walk in the door... they are just really, really hospitable and warm and friendly. So he just took that into his profession. He always harked back to that."

Smith said Isik started out as a dishwasher when he migrated from Turkey, before becoming a chef. He then managed to start his own cafe and "build it into this empire".

Restaurateur Alex Isik died when he had a heart attack at home. He leaves behind wife Nigar Ivgen...
Restaurateur Alex Isik died when he had a heart attack at home. He leaves behind wife Nigar Ivgen and children Naz, 10 and Ali, 7. Photo: Supplied
These days Ivgen worked the back of house while Isik ran the front. "That's why, as a duo, they were so strong."

But despite his success he did not shy away from getting his hands dirty.

Smith said a staff member at Deco Eatery had put up a post describing him as their number one coffee maker.

"He spent all day Sunday on the coffee machine. So he was the barista too. That's every Sunday for the last five years or something.

"He was so well rounded. Don't get me wrong, he was sharp as and hard as but also there was nothing you could ask him to do that he wouldn't do."

Isik's first business was the Mozaik chain of cafes, but about five years ago he reinvented his business model and himself, Smith said.

"He was the only guy I know who looks 10 years younger than he did 10 years ago."

As for what happens next for the business, Smith said they had not really talked about it but believed Isik would want them to keep moving forward.

"We owe it to him and his legacy to make sure that what he started we continue and we grow and make it better," Smith said.

As a father to Ali, 7, and Naz, 10, he was "outstanding".

"He loved his babies to the moon and back and was so proud of them," Smith said.

"He really was a special man. He really was such an inspiration. He had such a massive impact.

"He'll be eternally missed."

Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said Isik was a classic example of working your way up through the industry having started as a kitchen porter.

"Alex was a passionate restaurateur and an exceptional businessman setting up 36 cafes and restaurants across the Auckland region over 12 years," she said.

"His influence on the Auckland hospitality scene will be sorely missed."

• A funeral service will be held at 10.30am next Wednesday at Windsor Park Baptist Church.

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