Story and photos by Rudy Waldner

A 6 a.m. sunrise balloon ride over Love Valley, a gentle hike through Göreme National Park’s “fairy chimneys,” followed by what else? Pizza! Specifically, the Turkish pizza called pide. I dined twice at the Cappadocia Pide House because it was just that exotically flavorful all the way down to the texture. What a wonderful day—welcome to Göreme, Turkey!

Göreme is a town in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey. Cappadocia’s landscape is fascinating. I couldn’t stop taking it in. It was so vividly enticing, reminding me of a cross between a “Flintstones” cartoon and a “Star Trek” set. The fairy chimneys, some of which have been carved out with caves for habitation, meeting rooms, crypts and churches, were a spectacle to behold. When early Christians fled persecution from the Roman Empire, this is where they hid.

With this stunning landscape as a backdrop, sunrise and sunset are special events. At night, the illuminated buildings and facades look even more magical than during the day.

this photo shows fairy chimneys, gorgeous rock formations with mushroom-shaped caps

Göreme’s fairy chimneys

The Man in the Black Puffer Coat
My first visit to The Cappadocia Pide House took place late in the evening after a delayed flight, the relevance of which will soon become clear. (Weather and fog are finicky during the Turkish winter.) After a rather late check-in, I asked if there were any open restaurants nearby. I was directed to a well-lit location with a firepot blazing on the curbside. It was 20 degrees out, but with the lights shining at the carved stone structures, shops and rock spires scattered about, the walk remains, for me, a fond and crystal-clear memory.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I passed a man in a shiny, black puffer coat warming his hands at the fire. He welcomed me inside, and I proceeded to devour a Turkish pizza, of course, along with a bottle of wine. While I say it’s Turkish pizza, some credit the Anatolian (Asia Minor) kitchen for this recipe, which predates the Ottoman Empire. Regardless, I enjoyed it so much that I cleared a return visit with my wife, hoping to connect with the owner and pummel him with questions about his pizza and business.

The next day, after stacked adventure-of-a-lifetime events, I headed back to Cappadocia Pide House. Again, I was greeted outside at the firepot by the same man in the shiny, black puffer jacket, along with a few others. I connected with the waiter we met the previous day who spoke a bit of English. He offered to introduce me to the owner, and, moments later, Muhammed Ünal—that same gentleman with the shiny, black puffer jacket—stepped in with a huge, charming smile.

Rudy Waldner, in a black U.S. Pizza Team t-shirt, holds a long, curved knife and poses with Muhammed Unal, wearing a black sweater and grey, sleeveless jacket and holding a rolling pin

Rudy Waldner and Muhammed Ünal

The Minced Meat Pide
Ünal opened Cappadocia Pide House 16 years ago, and the restaurant moved to its current location 13 years ago. Ünal focuses on going the extra mile for customers and is deeply entrenched in the community. He has relationships with many local hotels and tour operators. Going back to the night of my arrival, he even knew that my flight had arrived super-late after many cancelled attempts, finally landing at an airport 1.5 hours away and forcing us passengers to take a shuttle to the local hotels.

Knowing that, Ünal had kept his restaurant open late that night to accommodate potential customers on the flight. And that’s why he was out there the night before, greeting me as I walked in that first late, cold evening. Then, again, he’s always out there, welcoming every customer at the firepot and inviting them in for his delicious pizza.

This is a photo of the minced meat pide is a flatbread piled with minced meats mixed with cheese and diced peppers, tomatoes and jalapeños

The Minced Meat pide

That pizza is made on an elongated, pita-type bread. It was entertaining to watch as the dough was stretched, filled with ingredients, partially folded over on the long sides of the oval, and slid into the oven on a narrow pizza peel. The crust is at least as thin as a thin-crust pizza stateside. My favorite version is the minced meat pizza, which turned out to be Ünal’s favorite, too. It features seasoned ground beef and a mysterious but memorable cheese obtained from an unnamed town, all mixed with a home Salah blend of local peppers, diced tomatoes and garlic.

I exaggerate not: As I type these words, I am salivating. Travel truly does create vivid memories.

this photo shows a fire blazing in a pot with legs, placed in front of the restaurant, with a parking lot full of cars in the background

A Q&A With Muhammed Ünal

I also posed some questions to Ünal, and here are his crisp replies via a translator:

Q: What makes your pizza unique?
A: Large portions, fresh taste in every bite, and my “secret” source of a unique cheese. Also, our current pizza chef has been on staff for six years, so they’ve created a rhythm that suits the restaurant.

Q: Who is your average customer?
A: Families and tourists. For the families, they get their fill. For the tourists, we provide a unique local dish that satisfies even the biggest pizza critic.

Q: How do you market your business to new and existing customers?
A: For 13 years, I’ve stood outside and greeted all passersby, returning customers and new customers.

Q: What’s your most popular menu item?
A: The minced meat pizza made with my “secret” cheese, fatty (not lean) ground beef, tomatoes, a pepper blend, and garlic.

Q: How do you compete against surrounding pizzerias?
A: After 16 years in business, we maintain our brand name through quality ingredients and relentless attention to customer service, beginning before you enter the building.

Q: What has been your most successful promotion?
A (smiling): Me out in front of my shop.

Q: Are you currently using social media? Is it successful?
A: Being in an area driven by tourism, we use TripAdvisor and Instagram. Both serve us well.

Q: How do you get involved in your community?
A: Göreme is a tourist area, so we have to be great hosts both at work and after. We maintain relationships with tour operators, hotels and their staffs.

Q: Do you currently offer online ordering and/or a loyalty program?
A: We accept phone-in orders and offer a 15% discount to repeat customers that we have become familiar with after visiting us a few times and establishing a relationship with them.

Q: What’s been your biggest accomplishment?
A: Surviving 16 years with a 99% customer happiness rating. We also have loyal return customers not just from down the block, but from places like China, India, Pakistan, the UK, the U.S., Italy and Russia. Quite the melting pot!

Q: What do you do when you’re not making pizza?
A: I’m getting ready to make pizza. With delayed flights and needing to be available almost 24/7, I’m close by at all times to accommodate any customer needs that arise.

Q: What’s next for your business?
A: We will be expanding the terrace and opening a hotel in town.

Q: What was your first pizza experience?
A: I’ll never forget visiting a bakery with my dad and enjoying my first minced meat pizza.

this photo shows a pide, stuffed with meats, that hasn't been baked in the oven yet

An unbaked pide from Cappadocia Pide House

Rudy Waldner is a restaurant consultant, food writer, world traveler and the author of “Marketing from the Trenches: Your Guide to Retail Success.” Visit his website to learn more about him at