Myra Karakelle had to resign from her corporate job three times before she could open MLK.

“I bit the bullet and resigned, and my HR manager rejected my resignation,” Karakelle says. “So I thought, ‘Okay, I’m being ridiculous’, and I continued working – but I still wasn’t fulfilled, so I resigned again.”

She was turned down again.

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“I was very fortunate to get a lovely title, a promotion, and all of those things, but I never felt the way I did when I was cooking and feeding people – sharing my food with my friends, my parents, my husband.

“So, for the third resignation, I went straight to the CEO, and told him, ‘Look, I really need to quit.’”

The third time was the charm, and after a year of upskilling, scrimping and saving, the result, MLK Deli (Myra’s Little Kitchen), is up and running in Surry Hills, just off Crown Street.

Karakelle’s mother is from Uzbekistan, and her father is Afghan. Her husband is Turkish. So the flavours in her kitchen have always skewed heavily towards Central and West Asia. Karakelle wanted to show off those lesser-known flavours, at first via a lockdown cooking Instagram account, also called Myra’s Little Kitchen. When her recipes began to spread beyond her friends and family to a greater audience, she started to dream about turning the online account into a bricks-and-mortar reality.

Pulling together MLK was a family (and friends) affair. Karakelle’s dad nearly single-handedly spruced up and renovated the old Bread ‘N’ More Bakery on Campbell Street. Her husband, an engineer, spent months watching Youtube videos on home-made brisket and tinkering with recipes before eventually flying to New York to try the pastrami at Katz’s Deli. Now that he’s nailed the brisket at MLK, he’s going back to his day job next week; he’s passing the baton to his younger brother, who’ll pull shifts for the next few weeks. Karakelle’s best friend, meanwhile, who did the design and branding for the shop, wakes up every morning at 3am to bake the cookies being sold that day.

But none of that is obvious when you come MLK. The vibe at this cute little blue cafe feels polished and self-assured. And after just a week of opening the sandwiches are already doing big numbers at lunchtime. There are seven to choose from. The Ruben-esque Risky Brisket comes with a side of crisps and a pickle, and the more Italian-American-style MLK Sando is mortadella, turkey ham, Wagyu salami, pecorino and provolone on ciabatta. Karakelle has adapted two of her favourite family recipes for the menu: Uzbek-style chicken thighs with Algerian sauce stars in the chicken sanga, and Karakelle’s mum’s lamb kofta recipe is used for the meatball sub. There’s also a hefty breakfast brisket roll.

All meat here is halal – a rarity for things like brisket and mortadella.

“I’ve lived in Surry Hills for years now, and whenever I want to eat halal I have to go to the Western Suburbs – and even then I’ve never been able to eat halal mortadella or anything like that,” Karakelle says. “So I wanted to be able to give this deli experience to everyone.”

Karakelle’s definitely giving that deli experience to herself, and is excited to finally be a part of the Sydney food scene she’s followed for so long.

“In every Broadsheet article, it’s always like, ‘The ex-chef from something has opened this place,’” says Karakelle. “And that really intimidates me because I’m not the ex-someone from anything – I’ve never done anything in this world, but I’m following my dreams, and doing something I’ve always wanted to do.”

MLK Deli
168 Campbell Street, Surry Hills
0452 585 820

Mon 9.30am–3.30pm
Tuesday closed
Wed to Fri 9.30am–3.30pm
Sat & Sun 8.30am–5pm