As Turkish Founder Gamze Cizreli Takes Her Company Public, Earthquake Relief Efforts Are Still Front Of Mind

By Maggie McGrath

In 2007, Turkish entrepreneur Gamze Cizreli was starting over from a divorce and in search of funding to start a new business. She’d run a successful cafe in Ankara in the 1990’s and was ready to build a bigger hospitality empire—but didn’t have the capital to get it off the ground.

And so, she took out a bank loan and started BigChefs, a cafe-brasserie and catering-focused hospitality company, entirely on the back of that loan. Within seven years, Cizreli expanded BigChefs into Dubai, and by late 2022 the company had grown to more than 100 locations across Turkey, the U.A.E, Germany, Azerbaijan and beyond.

Earlier this year, Cizreli, who is 54, landed a spot on the 2023 50 Over 50: EMEA, a list of women—produced in partnership with Mika Brzezinski and her Know Your Value initiative—who are stepping into their power in their sixth decade and beyond. The steady expansion of BigChefs is what earned Cizreli a place on the list, but on Wednesday, she took her most powerful step yet, guiding BigChefs to an IPO on the Borsa Istanbul, Turkey’s sole stock exchange.

“A brand founded by a woman entrepreneur by a 100% bank loan has been transforming to a corporate transparent company in 16 years time,” Cizreli told Forbes over email ahead of the IPO. “I am very happy and excited.”

The BigChefs IPO isn’t the only project Cizreli has been working on in recent months. Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of Turkey and northern Syria in February, Cizreli has been working to distribute food, build soup kitchens and rebuild restaurants that were decimated by the quake.

“Unfortunately, we’re at the beginning of a long road to recovery,” Cizreli told ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath at the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi in March. “According to the world bank, the damage in the region will be $85 billion.”