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The Caterer

Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Marlon Abela, Marc

06 December 2012
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Marlon Abela, Marc

Overall ranking: 86 (ranked 48 in 2011)
Restaurateur ranking: 23 (ranked 15 in 2011)

Marlon Abela - Snapshot

Marlon Abela is the chairman and chief executive of Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation (Marc). He has set himself the bold goal of creating a chain of Michelin-starred restaurants and less formal eateries in Europe and the USA. Marc's London portfolio encompasses private members' club Morton's, Cassis Bistro in South Kensington, the Greenhouse in Mayfair and Umu in Berkeley Square. US sites are Morello Bistro in Connecticut (formerly Gaia), two A Voce restaurants in New York, and Bistro du Midi in Boston and casual dining eateries FPB in New York.

The privately run business is believed to turn over £40m a year.

Marlon Abela - Career guide

Marlon Abela was born in 1975 to Lebanese contract catering giant Albert Abela. He was involved at an early age with his father's global food service company Albert Abela Corporation (AAC), which employed more than 30,000 people in 40 countries and achieved sales of $1.2b (£800m) in 2000. AAC also owned top-rated hotels in locations such as Monaco, London and Nice.

Abela became executive vice-president of AAC in his early twenties, until 2002 when, following his father's death, the empire was split between him, his brother and his uncle. He set up Marc in 2001.

Abela's first London buy was Morton's Private Members' Club in 2001, which he reopened in April 2004 after an extensive refurbishment. He bought the Greenhouse in Mayfair in 2003 just six days after head chef Paul Merrett - who later left - heard he had won a Michelin star. Abela reopened it after a smaller revamp.

Umu, which launched claiming to be the only restaurant in London to offer authentic kaiseki cuisine from Kyoto, opened in September 2004 and won a Michelin star within just four months.

Abela launched into the USA in April 2004, opening French-influenced restaurant Gaia in Greenwich, Connecticut, with Bjorn van der Horst in the kitchen.

In December 2008 Abela closed Gaia and reopened it as Morello Bistro, while 2010 saw Marc joining forces with US restaurateur Kenneth Himmel to launch Bistro du Midi in Boston, Massachusetts.

In September 2010, he launched casual boulangerie and eaterie, FPB in New York, which he plans to roll out across the city.

In the UK, the most recent Marc venture is Cassis Bistro, which opened in London's South Kensington in September 2010. However, the group is currently seeking a site in Mayfair to open a London branch of A Voce.

Marlon Abela - What we think

Abela's initial plan was to open 30 restaurants in London, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Dubai. However, he is a stickler for location, which is why he hasn't expanded at the speed observers might expect. In addition, the credit crunch made him decide to return to the "slowly slowly" approach to maintain quality.

He was raised around some of the best five-star hotels and restaurants in the world, telling the Independent newspaper in 2012: "At eight or nine, I was having three-hour meals, and thinking, ‘This is very normal'". The break-up of AAC and the sale of its Wood Company and Sogeres to Compass gave him the financial freedom to pursue the highest levels of style and standards in his own restaurants.

Abela spent two years assembling a top-notch team prepared to open several restaurants at a time. Over the past few years, the line-up has included Christian Palikuca, former head of operations for Daniel Boulud's flagship New York restaurant, as US operations director; leading Paris pÁ¢tissier Philippe Conticini as a consultant; and top chefs such as Arnaud Bignon (Greenhouse), Ichiro Kuboto (Umu) and Andrew Carmellini (A Voce) and most recently former Heinz Beck executive chef Massimiliano Blasone (Cassis Bistro).

Abela has adopted a three-pronged approach. At the top level, he has said he plans to open at least five Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurants in each London, Paris and New York. Average spend will exceed £80 per head. A key element of Marc restaurants is the wine list, which he has said must be extraordinary. His blueprint also encompasses a line of casual fine-dining restaurants, with lower spend. Cassis Bistro, for instance, offers three courses for just £19.

The company has also stated its aim to expand its interests in events and management services, while its fine wines arm supplies several London eateries.
While Marc restaurants have, on the whole, been critically acclaimed, Abela has not always got as much credit in industry circles as he may have liked, with sneers that Marc has been built up with the advantage of inherited wealth.

But Abela - who is worth an estimated £350m - insists this does not bother him. Speaking to the Times in 2008, he said: "I think we have proven ourselves. Everyone has to prove themselves in this world, irrespective of their background. The point is that we've done it in London in a very high-end segment of the market."

Indeed, Marc is currently on the lookout for its next London venues after selling a Charlotte Street site just a year after acquiring it, on the grounds that the location was not sufficiently high-end. Instead Abela is on the lookout for two new Mayfair sites, one of which is intended for a London branch of A Voce.

Marlon Abela's ranking in the 2011 Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 >>

MARC sells Charlotte Street site to Wahaca to fund new Mayfair opening >>Former Apsleys executive chef Massimiliano Blasone joins MARC >>

Antonin Bonnet to leave the Greenhouse and open restaurant in Paris >>

Morton's to relaunch Night Lounge as Downstairs at Morton's >>**

The Caterer Interview: Marlon Abela >>

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