Ayhan Hassan remembers the first time he heard the term “Long Island.”
It was the late 1960s and Hassan was a young man living in Cyprus. He didn’t actually hear someone say “Long Island,” instead he read it in a book called Mamma Lucia by Mario Puzo, acclaimed author of The Godfather. The budding restaurateur would see Long Island for himself—but first had some traveling to do.
“I left Cyprus and became a sailor, zig-zagging the world,” Hassan said over a plate of grilled octopus at his namesake Ayhan’s Shish Kebab on Main Street in Port Washington, one of this three eateries on the corner of Main Street and Shore Road, which local officials dubbed “Ayhan’s Corner” a number of years ago. “I remember reading the words ‘Long Island’ and trying to imagine what it was, what it looked like and who lived there.”
He would soon find out for himself. In 1980, Hassan would find his way to Port Washington and open his first Shish Kebab in the very same location where it stands today, though it was much smaller back then. Since those early days, the restaurant has expanded three times and each renovation seems to pull in more and more of the Mykonos atmosphere he always wanted to employ.
“I’m finished expanding here,” Hassan promises, but he isn’t finished working. Sharing an afternoon with Hassan, one must be light on their feet. He starts the day at his quick-serve plus sit-down establishment Ayhan’s Mediterranean Marketplace & Café in the corner booth, taking phone calls, looking over paperwork and greeting every familiar face that walks in through the door. The cafe features a glass case full of Mediterranean favorites like gyro, salmon, falafel and hummus, but also plenty of nontraditional fare that is given a unique Mediterranean twist. There’s also a robust breakfast menu, with fresh omelets, breakfast platters, sandwiches, pancakes and fresh fruit. But what makes the cafe a singular experience is the sweeping panoramic view of Manhasset Bay from the glassed-in seated area.
“You cannot get this anywhere else, it’s a gem,” Hassan said of the view, a spot that also holds a full bar and hosts live music on various nights. “We can even close this off for private parties. When it’s set up with fine linens and lights, it’s beautiful.”
From there, Hassan bounds across Main Street to f.i.s.h. on main, a restaurant that pays homage to the legendary fishing exploits of various Mediterranean coastal countries. f.i.s.h. on main is housed in a building that has stood on Main Street since 1900, and it has the sturdy columns to prove it.
“These are real,” Hassan says as he knocks on one of the columns, which mightily add to the whole Greek aesthetic. Inside, f.i.s.h. on main offers a modern and fresh look, with a menu plucked right from the sea featuring items like branzini and black sea bass, a catch of the day, whole Maine lobsters, and seafood pasta. And don’t forget to try the New England Clam Chowder, which Hassan proudly names as one of his award-winning soups—his other award-winnings soups, Turkey Chili and Red Lentil, are served at the cafe.
Back at the restaurant that started it all for Hassan, Ayhan’s Shish Kebab, they serve a fusion-type cuisine including the best cuisine the Mediterranean has to offer from countries including Turkey, Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and more.
“A lot of the food is the same, but with different names,” said Hassan, who calls himself a “curious cook” who often likes to experiment in the kitchen with different flavor combinations. “We like to try new things, but we have a vision that we stick to.”
That vision includes all of the favorites—from gyro platters and chicken kebabs, to lamb shank and the aforementioned grilled octopus. Sunday brunch is extremely popular at Ayhan’s, with long tables filled with Mediterranean delights and some more American breakfast favorites.
With nearly 40 years under his belt in Port Washington, Hassan knows that in large part, his success is a credit to the community and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce that support him on a daily basis.
“It doesn’t matter where I came from, this is home,” he said. “I’m very lucky to be here.”