Regent Square restaurant’s future shaky as owner faces rape charges

October 13, 2018

Emily O’Donnell used to enjoy the tasty dishes served up at a Mediterranean restaurant on Braddock Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Regent Square neighborhood.

Then she heard about the allegations against the owner of Istanbul Sofra.

“It used to be so busy,” O’Donnell said while seated on her neighboring outdoor porch last week. “We all just quit going. I would be happy to see some new ownership.”

The future of the once-popular restaurant remains uncertain as its owner, Adnan Hilton Pehlivan, remains in jail awaiting trial on stalking and rape charges.

The restaurateur’s plans for a second bar and restaurant next door also appear to be dead as it is now listed for sale.

Pehlivan is being held without bond. A trial date has not been set.

Istanbul Sofra still serves lunch and dinner at the corner of Braddock and Forbes avenues. But its planned neighbor, Hilton’s Lounge, also owned by Pehlivan, never opened as scheduled. The restaurant was listed Sept. 4 on Loopnet with an asking price of $750,000, including the liquor license.

Loopnet is a popular online commercial real estate website.

Pehlivan’s May 15 arrest has left some local residents wondering what’s next for Istanbul Sofra.

“I don’t eat there anymore, since his arrest,” said O’Donnell, who lives next door to Hilton’s Lounge. “I won’t patronize it.”

Pehlivan, 47, is charged with stalking and sexually assaulting a woman in her South Side home. Additional charges include involuntary deviate sexual intercourse of an unconscious person, burglary, simple assault and aggravated assault.

Prosecutors presented evidence June 4 of videos downloaded to Pehlivan’s cellphone that showed a man stalking a woman, breaking into her home and raping her.

On Aug. 1 , a judge denied the third bond request for Pehlivan.

He has been jailed since May 23 and was ordered by the court to surrender his passport.

The outdoor patio at Istanbul Sofra was vacant last week during a lunchtime visit by a Trib reporter. A single diner ate inside.

An employee at Instanbul Sofra confirmed that Edip Sensel remains as chef but declined further comment.

Sensel did not respond to messages left for him requesting an interview.

In a follow-up phone call, a restaurant manager said, “I can’t confirm anything” when asked if the eatery was going to have a new owner, change hands or possibly be sold. She declined to give her name.

Pehlivan’s brother, Hamza, hung up on a Trib reporter when asked about details related to the sale of Hilton’s Lounge. Hamza’s phone number is the the contact number for inquiries on the Loopnet listing.

Longtime resident Sandy Leavy was a regular at Istanbul Sofra--until she heard about the rape allegations.

She and her husband quit dining there, preferring to dine at a different Mediterranean restaurant

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Leavy said. “But after watching the video surveillance footage, I won’t eat there.”

The online video footage referenced by Leavy was made public by prosecutors in court. They presented 14 minutes of surveillance video alleging Pehlivan deliberately stalked his victim and her friends on Pittsburgh’s South Side the night of the alleged attack.

Fellow restaurateur Linda Alworth of Gilpin owns Twisted Thistle restaurant and Lingrow Farm in Leechburg. She dined at Istanbul Sofra several times and befriended Pehlivan.

Alworth invited him for a visit to Twisted Thistle.

“He was very friendly. He helped me with my webpage -- offered advice. I called him by his nickname, ‘Hilton’-- I am very troubled that he has been charged with such a heinous crime.”

Alworth said operating a successful business involves hard work and is time consuming.

“I don’t know who he entrusted his restaurant with,” Alworth said. “But I do know if you are not watching the daily aspects of your business, things can walk away.”

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