Pearls of Wisdom: Marlon Abela

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New york city, Restaurant, Catering

Marlon Abela, chairman of MARC
Marlon Abela, chairman of MARC
The man behind Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation (MARC) oversees eight top-end restaurants, split between London and New York, as well as the US-based FPB bakery brand.

Food quality is central for us.​ That might sound obvious, but there are a lot of brilliant restaurants that don’t serve brilliant food. That’s an important distinction.

I was born into the food business. ​My father operated a major contract-catering business, which I was heavily involved with from a young age. We did everything from airline catering and schools to top-end hotels and two-Michelin star restaurants.

A Voce – our two-strong NYC Italian group – would work in London​, we’re just looking for the right site. Similarly, I want to take Umu to NYC.

It’s all about location​ we don’t compromise on that.

The planning regulations in this country make me sad.​ Restaurants like ours aren’t going to cause any problems – there is no noise, no drunkenness. I don’t see why it’s so hard for professional operators to get permissions.

There is a lot coming into London at the moment:​ lots of new players, a lot of new openings. Many of those guys may have a hard time. It’s only the very best that will survive in the long term.

I’m very particular about my chefs. ​The interview is intense and I always make them cook for me. The chefs in our group tend to share a similar philosophy towards cooking.

Our new FPB bakery concept in New York​ – a partnership with the best-known US chef, François Payard – is doing really well. We’re about to open our third site and are looking at a fourth, fifth and sixth as I speak. We’d consider it for the UK, but NYC is our focus at the moment.

It’s very costly to open and maintain our restaurants.​ The décor is high-end, the staff are very good, and we are always based in prime locations.

I don’t like paying massive premiums.​ There’s a cut-off point, and these days that point is on the low side compared to some London operators. I don’t pay stupid money for sites. It’s not clever.

Umu might be Japanese and The Greenhouse might be French​, but there are common threads to the dishes across the estate. We source the best ingredients, the preparation is technical – our chefs are very precise – and there’s a lot of respect given to the ingredients.

We’ve just taken on the former Bertorelli’s in Charlotte Street.​ I didn’t know what the concept would be but I just snapped it up, it’s a brilliant site.

A big difference between NYC and London​ is that it’s much easier to change the use of a site in NYC. In London it’s very hard to get A3 use.

MARC turned out to be a good name. ​We needed a name for the holding company so I suggested Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation. It got abbreviated and just stuck.

We have a growth plan​ but we leap into action when sites become available.

Our recipe for success ​is very simple to outline – quality and consistency.

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