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White River Junction Restaurant, Coffee Shop Change Hands

White River Junction — Two popular downtown restaurants have changed hands, and while one new owner is making few changes, the other is going to expand hours and shift some menu items toward Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine.

Vural and Jackie Oktay, who purchased Tuckerbox last week, are not considering any major changes in the cafe’s successful morning and lunchtime service, but they are going to start serving Turkish meals at night in the next few weeks, Vural Oktay said.

Up the road, Eileen McGuckin is settling in to owning the Tip Top Cafe, which she bought at the end of August. So far, she’s kept the fine dinning restaurant as it has been for the seven years since chef and owner Eric Hartling opened it.

McGuckin has managed the Tip Top for the last five years, and Hartling has been focusing on his other venture, Tuckerbox, since it opened, she said last week.

“Eric really hasn’t been cooking here for a while, and when he decided that he wanted to sell, it seemed like a good idea to buy it,” she said.

“We haven’t made big changes to the menu. We decided that we wanted the transition to be smooth. We’ve added a couple of employees, but that’s about all. We’re in the early stages of things now.”

One change is that Isaac Gresser who has been working at the restaurant for a while as assistant manager has taken over as chef, she said, adding that Gresser was well-acquainted with the menu and preparation.

“We’ll always make seasonal changes to the menu. We like to use local ingredients as much as possible, so that forces you to change things.”

Hartling moved to the area about 20 years ago from Boston where he was an executive chef. He and his former wife opened the Perfect Pear restaurant in Bradford, and in 2005 after they split up, he took over the shuttered Tip Top, which had two previous chef owners, and found a successful formula. He opened Tuckerbox in 2008. The limited menu restaurant quickly became a popular spot for White River Junction workers, area residents and Cartoon School students. Hartling couldn’t be reached for comment last week.

Oktay said for the next month or so, customers will see little difference from Hartling’s operation at the Tuckerbox, a gathering spot that serves a variety of coffees and drinks, creative sandwiches and pastries. Hartling also is working with the new owners in an advisory capacity for the next few weeks.

“We don’t want to change lunch and breakfast. We’re going to do the same thing, keep everything the same, but maybe add some Turkish coffee and cheese, baklava, more types of falafel and vegetarian options. That’s something that we’ve been hearing that people want vegetarian items,” he said.

The Oktays have been trying to open a restaurant in the Upper Valley for the last couple of years.

Considering Vural Oktay’s background, owning a place seemed a next logical step. He has been in the food service business since he was young, starting out in his native Istanbul, working in five-star hotels, and for the last 11 years in New England after he moved here. In fact, he and Jackie met while they were both working at the Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, N.H. He moved to the Basin Harbor Club outside of Burlington while she was finishing her degree at the University of Vermont. Now, they live up the hill from the Tuckerbox in White River Junction, he said.

“We’ve been trying to open a restaurant here for a long time. We wanted to open two years ago on Main Street in West Lebanon, it turned out to be too much money. In the meantime, we purchased a turnkey restaurant in Essex Junction, Vt., a year ago, and my brother, Hasan, is running it — Istanbul Kabab House — and we’re getting a great response,” Oktay said last week.

“We want to do something similar here (at the Tuckerbox), but just at night with the dinner menu. It will be a cafe in the daytime and then turn into a Turkish restaurant at night

Turkey is centrally located between Asia and Europe and has been a melting pot of cultures for centuries. As a result, the food is a fusion of the cuisines of the two continents and is a reflection of the influences of the country’s rich history, offering a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes, the Kabab House website says.

“There isn’t this type of food around here, and we think that people will really like it,” Oktay said.

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.