Boy who grew up in pizza shop on Yale campus now a Yalie himself

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NEW HAVEN--Since he was 5 years old, high school senior Hacibey Catalbasoglu, has worked at his father’s pizza place, located in the heart of the Yale campus. For all those years he has dreamed of one day attending the Ivy League school.

On March 31, Hacibey received three letters: one each from Cornell, Brown and Yale. So, he decided to open them in the order from least favorite to dream school. Brown: a rejection. Cornell: another no thanks. Then, there was the letter from Yale.

“It just said congratulations,” said a smiling Catalbasoglu. “There was a bulldog and a message saying welcome to class 2019. I just stood there for a second. I didn't say a single word.”

“I couldn't believe what happened," said Catalbasoglu. “I felt like reality ceased to exist.”

The reality is, it was also his father’s dream. Kadir Catalbasoglu, owner of Pizza at the Brick Oven, at the corner of Elm and Howe,  said his years of hard work, including many night’s slept in his car or on the restaurant’s couch, have paid off. While he was in a meeting with a real estate agent, his son called with the good news.

“I just didn’t want to cry in front of him on the phone,” said Kadir Catalbasoglu. “I just couldn’t stay strong so I just hang up the phone. That’s it. I didn't know how to react.”

Of course, the restaurant customers, many Yale students, quickly heard the good news. So Hacibey, a senior at the Putnam Science Academy, would have to make the hour and a half drive back to the restaurant from school for a celebration, which was part of an orientation weekend called Bulldog Days for incoming freshmen. His dad took a picture of the group.

“While we were walking back to campus, my friend was like 'you know, we're gonna look back on the picture in 30 years and it's going to be like this one is a senator, that one is governor, he’s a CEO of a huge company,'" Hacibey said.

He hopes his future is in environmental engineering.

“For four years, I’ve worked on projects on how to efficiently extract oil from dried up oil reservoirs or how to clean industrial waste water with fruit peels,” said Hacibey.

While at times he was frustrated with his job at the pizza place, he’ll never forget working for and receiving advice from his father.

“I tell him, this is the best school, better than Yale,” said Kadir Catalbasoglu. “They go to Yale, but they see (running a business) only in the books.”