Rebirth in the Phoenix

Kerri Bell

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Kerri Bell grew up in Chico and has fond memories of eating at Sultan’s Bistro when it first opened over a decade ago. She was working at Big Al’s Drive-In then, but eventually she made her way down The Esplanade and into the Phoenix Building, where she served gyros and dolmas to eager customers for about four years. “I always joked that I was gonna buy this place someday,” she said, smiling. She took a break from food service to run a house cleaning business for a few years, and her former bosses approached her when they were ready to sell Sultan’s—“because they saw my passion.” Bell has been the proud proprietor since January. Six months later, a period in which she cleaned up the place and repaired equipment, Bell opened for business earlier this month with her sole employee, longtime friend Samantha Bill. Sultan’s is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday, at 300 Broadway. Don’t be surprised if there are belly dancers on weekends.

What inspired you to buy Sultan’s?

I just fell in love. How could you not love this—I mean, the kitchen is right here, I get to interact with everyone. I don’t have to be in the back. And it’s fun because these workers [at Jon and Bon’s], we were just joking that it feels like we all work here together, and yet we’re separate businesses. You’re never bored. And we’re making it more lively. We want to bring in belly dancers. We want to be the heartbeat.

So, you bought all the recipes?

Everything. I loved this place when it was the original. So, I called Sandy and Yildirim [Karatekeli], the original owners, and these were their family recipes. So, I got everything back to the original. Sandy and Yildirim came in and tasted my food and were like, “Oh my God, this is good!” and I’m like, “I nailed it!”

What else sets you apart?

I love that we’re vegan-friendly. Not a lot of restaurants cater at all to vegans, and we do.

What’s your favorite item on the menu?

My favorite thing is the chicken and rice plate. I love the hot sauce and house dressing all over it. And our french fries. I should say the beef and lamb is my favorite—it’s really rich, though.

So, now that you’re open, how are you feeling?

I love it. I’m so happy I’m here. But, this is just the beginning. I’m going to do the tapestries, the lighting, the music—everything. I can’t wait for it all to fall into place. The future goal for this is … I think this is the perfect little place to franchise out. So, hopefully, if it goes well, that’s what I’ll do: I’ll franchise it out.