Upon entering Cafe Tu-o-tu, a newcomer notices how small the ordering space is, but also the warmth and welcome that emanate from the staff. Owner Mino Sarano, 56, says that he wishes he could expand the kitchen space, which he describes as very small. “It’s hard to expand,” he says of his Pennsylvania Avenue location, near the Four Seasons at Georgetown’s eastern gateway.
The original idea to open a Georgetown eatery came from a woman who became Sarano’s partner in launching Cafe Tu-o-tu in 2003. Four years later, when she got married, he became sole owner of the business.
The café is known for its coffee and there is a wide selection of salads, appetizers, paninis, sandwiches and wraps, plus Turkish baklava for dessert. The food is described as “Mediterranean food with a little Turkish twist.” Sarano estimates that there are more than 45 items from which customers can choose.
Among the sandwiches of note is the Fontina a la Turca panini, which features the Turkish cured-meat product sucuk, brought in from New Jersey. “Customers really like Fontina a la Turca,” he says. Another good seller is the kofte sandwich, lamb patties served in pita bread. The most popular seller, however, is the chicken caprese melt.
Sarano moved to the United States from Istanbul in 1981 with his mother and three brothers, all of whom live 20 minutes apart. He says that his family likes what he does and knows what kind of food he can whip up. “I bring them food, so they like it.”
If you expect the menu to change, don’t hold your breath — Sarano believes in keeping the menu the same. He also believes in using fresh ingredients and in providing really good service in a family-friendly environment. “I always think I’m different from the others,” he says.
This business model worked well for him until 2016, with sales increasing every year since Cafe Tu-o-tu opened. This past year, however, he has seen the business falter. “Business is slower than before,” he says. Sarano, though, is optimistic about this setback going away. “I think we will get back to normal soon.”
What is clear is the effort that Sarano has put into Cafe Tu-o-tu — and continues to, usually working six days a week. He is also seeking to increase sales by using technology to update his delivery service. “I have another 10 years at least,” he says.