Zach Erdem grew up in Erzincan, Turkey, and lived there until the age of 21, when he decided to move to the United States.
In his early teen years growing up in Turkey, Erdem was a shepherd, waking up at sunrise and venturing up a nearby mountain with a flock of animals, returning home at sunset. He did this for four years when he became inspired to make a change, and booked his ticket to the U.S.
“When I was a shepherd, I took my animals to a different location and I passed by the railroad a few miles away from my village,” Erdem says. “When I was walking by the train tracks, I saw a newspaper on the ground. The front page had an image of New York City, and it was then that I realized my dream to come to America and New York.
“I kept that page for years,” he continues. “I looked at it and thought, ‘If I don’t get there, I am going to die a shepherd.’ I knew that I was better than what I was doing, and I knew I could get there and be successful. I just needed the tools to do it.”
Like millions of immigrants, he was brought here by the idea of America and found himself in NY. It would be less than 10 years until NY found him.
Erdem was without friends or family. When he arrived, he didn’t have so much as a map of the city, let alone a means to get around. After spending two days at the airport, he was asked to leave and boarded a bus to Grand Central Terminal.
The bus ticket was $13.50, he recalls vividly. He paid it with a majority of the little money he had in his pocket and boarded the bus with a singular backpack and a yellow pocket dictionary. Scared of the unknown, he arrived at Grand Central.
“On the bus, I remember looking out the window and seeing the street signs along the highway,” he recalls. “The first word I learned in English when coming to America was ‘exit,’ after reading the parkway signs. I remember looking it up in my yellow translating dictionary and remembering that would be my first word learned.”
After some time, he found his way to Southampton and with a stroke of luck, he arrived on Main Street. He went door-to-door to find his first job in America with the hope that it would give him associates and friends, not to mention a steady source of income.
Erdem walked into a small restaurant at 75 Main Street, which was owned by a kind woman who was involved in the everyday management of the business. He was offered a dishwashing position for the busy summer season, but it was not long until management noticed his work ethic and people skills.
He rose up the ranks from dishwasher to busser, and soon ended up as one of the front of house faces, as a server and bartender.
After some time, he said goodbye to his position at 75 Main to manage competing restaurant Nello—a position he held for seven years.
“When I heard that Nello was opening, I figured that I would take an opportunity and sent in my resume,” Erdem says. “I sent it in about 15 times. I decided to walk into the restaurant and see if I could speak to the manager…
“When I walked in, I met Nello—a yellow-haired man who was sipping on a glass of rosé, quite early in the morning I might add,” he continues. “I didn’t know he was the owner, but he told me I was hired.… I met his wife, who was also from Turkey, and we became friends. After about a year and a half, he made me the manager. Then, I managed both his city location and his Hamptons location for several years. I put my whole heart and soul into my time at Nello.”
His Nello employment came to an abrupt end in 2010, when he was let go on April 1 after a change in ownership.
Still determined for success and more financially secure, Erdem returned to Main Street. He walked the sidewalk, when he passed the restaurant where he first cut his teeth in the U.S.
A sign on the window read “under construction,” when a passerby informed Erdem that the location had shut its doors months back and many doubted that it would ever reopen. Thinking quickly, Erdem contacted the owner who had first hired him eight years earlier. After seven hours on the telephone, and hours of forms, Erdem purchased the restaurant from her. Erdem began a new chapter.
He opened the doors as soon as he could, welcoming the first customer and serving the first dish on June 11, 2010. 75 Main was back and Zach Erdem became a mainstay.
“When I opened 75 Main, I remember spending a lot of money fixing up the location,” he says. “I was literally out of money and didn’t even have any money for the cash-drawer on our first day. By 5 p.m., though, we were packed and the rest was history.
“After some time, I walked across the street, and I sat down on the bench,” he continues. “I saw a line into my restaurant and people enjoying themselves, and I put my head in my hands and began to cry. I could not believe that this was my restaurant. A shepherd from Turkey was now the owner 75 Main.”
Now, after 11 years of business, Erdem has become more than just a local restaurant owner, but a tycoon of sorts on the East End. He began a restaurant group which operates Blu Mar, AM Nightclub, Summer House Nightclub Lounge, as well as Harpoon House hotel. His impact on the Hamptons cannot be overstated, and his establishments are among the most well-regarded in the area.
Each summer, when the city-dwellers make their eastward pilgrimage, Erdem’s 75 Main is at-capacity, and has become a fan-favorite of many A-List celebrities and public figures. A-Rod, Sarah Jessica Parker, and even President Joe Biden have enjoyed dishes at this Hamptons institution.
But this is the beginning, says Erdem, who remains committed to providing the best quality food and environments.
“God is always watching you and hard work and smart work pays off,” he says. “My next goal is to go worldwide, in all of the hot spots in the world. Dubai, Miami, Los Angeles, New York City. Good restaurants are always making big numbers in these areas. This will be step-by-step, but I will continue to grow up.”
In the most improbable of success stories, Erdem is the full embodiment of the American dream. He’s won awards, critical acclaim and, perhaps most importantly, popularity among those who call the Hamptons a second home.
His pathway to success is only outshined by his personableness , humility and kindness. And after purchasing the real estate in which 75 Main sits in 2020, Erdem will be here for a long time to come.