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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Hacibey Catalbasoglu was serving his father's pizza to Yale students when he was a preteen, even making a pie or two.
But during last week's Bulldog Days, he was one of the incoming freshmen enjoying a slice from Pizza at the Brick Oven on Yale University's Old Campus.
His father, Kadir Catalbasoglu, owns the Brick Oven at 122 Howe St., close to heart of where many Yale students live. Being accepted at Yale, Hacibey said, "I feel like it was a match made in heaven . I was destined to go there."
Hacibey Catalbasoglu has been around Yale students most of his life, while spending time at the restaurant, which features comfy couches and wood tables.
"When I was small my father wasn't at the restaurant and I made a pizza" for one of the many Yale students who have come to Brick Oven over the past 15 years, Catalbasoglu said. As he got older, Catalbasoglu, 17, got to know more Yalies until "it just made me feel like I had this second family, this second home at Yale, and it made me want to go there," he said.
When he was accepted to Yale, the news traveled fast throughout the college community, especially among the off-campus residents in Brick Oven's neighborhood, because Kadir Catalbasoglu and the restaurant are beloved among the students and neighbors.
"I really have never encountered a place just like it," said Rafi Bildner, a junior majoring in American studies who lives on Howe Street. "People don't go in just for the food. . It really is a community gathering place. Kadir really is just a fixture in the community. I'll be hanging out with him (and) he just knows everyone."
Kadir Catalbasoglu's fans are now his son's fans as well, now that Hacibey will be one of Brick Oven's fellow customers. "It just spread like wildfire," Bildner said of the news that Hacibey will be a Yalie. "I went in there and it was just a party in there."
Bildner called Hacibey Catalbasoglu "a really sweet kid, really hard-working."
Catalbasoglu gets his work ethic from his dad, who has owned another pizzeria and a Turkish restaurant but now just runs Brick Oven, which is open till 4 a.m. on weekends.
"I've been in New Haven about 20 years," said Kadir Catalbasoglu said. "We emigrated from Turkey and we work very hard serving the Yale community."
Catalbasoglu emigrated from the Black Sea village of Yaglidere. "It was a dream kind of thing in my heart and my head that my son would go to the best school. . Over the years we made a lot of friends" at Yale, he said.
When the family got the news, Kadir Catalbasoglu invited some people to their Hamden home for a Turkish breakfast to celebrate. Among them were several Yale students, including Bildner, as well as a neighbor, Kate Walton of University Place.
"I am so excited and thrilled for him and his family," Walton said of Hacibey Catalbasoglu. "I remember him from when he was a little kid."
She said the Yale students who attended the breakfast "were very sweet with (Kadir's) son, giving him great tips about how to negotiate" becoming a Yale freshman.
Walton said Brick Oven is "really more than a pizzeria. It's some of the best food ever." She called it "a neighborhood landmark. . The place is just jumping with Yale students every night of the week."
And it's clear that the food isn't the only attraction. Kadir Catalbasoglu is admired throughout the area.
"Given how smart and hard-working his dad is, it doesn't surprise me that (Hacibey) stood out and was good enough to be accepted at Yale," Walton said.
Hacibey Catalbasoglu is already starting to fit in. During Bulldog Days, the admitted high school seniors stay in the dorms at Yale, and last week Catalbasoglu was playing foosball with some students in Branford College when they all got hungry. So they headed over to Brick Oven.
Hacibey's application included a "distinctive and memorable essay about serving pizza to Yale students," said Jonathan Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions, who said it "was very much news on campus, kind of a mini-celebration" among students when Catalbasoglu was admitted, with some students even going over to Brick Oven to sing congratulations to him. Hacibey said he was even received congratulations from local pro boxer Chad Dawson.
And Catalbasoglu, a student at Putnam Science Academy, faced a high bar, with only 6.5 percent of applicants accepted into a class of fewer than 2,000, according to Quinlan.
"We were thrilled that we were able to admit this young man," Quinlan said of Catalbasoglu.
Catalbasoglu, whose family includes his mother, Fatma, brother Gokbey and sister Beyza, got into several other selective schools as well, but said he had no doubt about committing to Yale, where he also hopes to play basketball.
"It still didn't settle in yet," he said. "It doesn't sound right in my head; it's unbelievable, but I'm really excited, it's awesome. It's been my first choice since I was like 5."
Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com