The future home (tall building in background) of vegan restaurant Marcus in Asbury Park, NJ
Recently, I had a chat with our grad Mark Hinchcliffe about some exciting news: the firm he works for will be opening a vegan restaurant named Marcus in Asbury Park, New Jersey, early in 2013. There’s a vibrant dining scene developing over the past few years in Asbury Park, and Mark’s firm has a lot to do with it. Here he gives us some details of what’s to come:
Tell us something about the firm or collective behind this project and what you have to do with it.
I work for a firm called Knockout as a copywriter and overall strategist. We all wear many hats at Knockout, so we don’t have official titles. We’re basically a collective of creators, movers, and thinkers intent on razing old conversations and raising new ones. Our home is Asbury Park. Our work is everywhere. We believe that great design cannot happen without integrity, great ideas do not necessarily require time, and greatness isn’t always so great.
It’s very familial. We share office space with Watt Architects, an architectural firm led by Jim Watt. His brother, Jason, is a partner in Knockout, along with founders Meg Brunette and Kyle LePree. Together we are known simply as Smith. Smith is behind all of the big visions we are currently creating.
What other notable projects is your firm the creative force behind?
In terms of projects that we’ve birthed, funded and designed on our own, there are several. Brickwall was our first project of this kind. It was the first bar to open up in the slowly-getting-back-on-its-feet Asbury. That was in 2006. We just celebrated our 6th anniversary. It’s that place where everyone knows your name; where you can find the best beers on tap anywhere around here – rare stuff that no one else is pouring. And the food is comfort food. Quality fare at really reasonable prices.
Then there’s Porta, our authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurant. The story behind Porta would take up your entire blog, but I’ll make it short.
We decided we wanted to build this amazing pizza place. Fredrica Vilardi (our creative director at Knockout), decided she would learn how to make pizza. Like I said, we wear many hats. So she went and got trained by Roberto Caporuscio, who you may know as the man behind NYC’s Kesté and most recently, Don Antonio. Then we ordered two wood-fired ovens from Italy. They took months to build and ship over here.
We opened at the end of July last year. Somehow between then and now, Porta has become a food and dance hall mecca. We’ve got lines around the block to eat our pizza and party. Come check it out!
What is the property in question? I know it’s the tallest building in Asbury Park. Does it have any other significance?
It’s the tallest in the downtown, and one of the oldest, built in 1927. A beautiful, 11-story Art Deco building with sweeping views of the Atlantic and downtown Asbury.
What or who was the genesis of this idea to open a vegan restaurant?
I can’t say it was any one person. Everything is collaboration here. We don’t take personal credit for creation.
Is Asbury Park ripe for a vegan restaurant? How did you determine that?
We believe it is ripe for a vegan restaurant. But it’s not like we’re doing focus groups. Everything for us starts with a vision. We look at what we want to create, and then we create it. Our projects come from something very passionate and personal within all of us.
But you’ve got to design on a high level. Communication is everything. Because it’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s quite another to say, “This will be so by this time.” We put something at stake. We get our skin in the game. That’s how we go about making things happen. It’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Getting outside of our comfort zones to create things that we didn’t know we could create.
Is Asbury Park ripe for a vegan restaurant? Yes. Because we say it is.
How big will the restaurant be? How many seats?
We’re still in the design phase of all of this, so I can’t tell you for sure. But it’s not a hole in the wall. Probably around 25 seats. We want this to be a very immersive experience for the diner.
What elements do you think this concept will need to make it, as you say, the “most well-known vegan restaurant on the East Coast and to take away some vegan bragging rights from our West Coast counterparts?”
It’s all about approaching things differently.
What do you think, if anything, is missing from the East Coast vegan scene?
I’m not sure anything is missing from the East Coast vegan scene. It is its own thing, humming along. We’re more interested in creating a new context, rather than shuffling around the pieces or bringing that “missing” piece into the current context.
As much as I am a vegan, I don’t believe in the word. It’s just another way to create separation, to say to someone else, “I’m not like you.” When you start calling yourself “vegan” or “meat-eater” or whatever, you’re just judging others. You’re removing yourself from their circle. It’s all very righteous and a load of bullshit. The sooner we can all give up our stories about who’s right and who’s wrong about their eating habits, the sooner we can solve our problems of obesity and diabetes and environmental destruction.
I know you’re searching for a chef. Have you found one yet?
Not yet. We’re still in the creation stage of the project. We have an executive chef team that will be overseeing all of our restaurants, but we’ll be looking for a Chef de Cuisine and all other positions. Both BOH and FOH.
If you haven’t found a chef yet, what skill set do you envision this person having?
Someone who’s an experimenter. Someone who might not come from the vegan world. We’re looking to do something different, which means that we’re not necessarily looking for someone from the vegan scene. Maybe they have a background in charcuterie or molecular gastronomy. It’s about someone approaching this food from a very humble place, a place where they know nothing. We’re daring to be naive.
Does the restaurant have a name? Can you share it yet?
Marcus. It’s going to be a dark, cave-like place. Very sexy. Very carnal. To juxtapose the non-meat dishes. Early-60s inspired – a time of decadence in all things.
When are you planning to open?
Will this be a place where Natural Gourmet students can intern?
Sure. Let’s see what they’ve got.