Chart your own course, select your meals, pick your own ingredients from a European marketplace, watch a chef prepare your food, get your passport stamped, and then relax in a bistro, Italian country inn or Mediterranean garden. And to do so, you need never leave the United States.
The Marche Movenpick experience awaits visitors to Prudential Center in Boston, the first major city nationwide to host the new concept.
The restaurant is centered around fresh, locally grown foods prepared to order in full view of customers at a variety of internationally themed stations. The aromas and sounds of cooking along with the energy and bustle of a French street market, or marche, provide the theatrics. And the setting of a country inn or outdoor garden further complement the mix.
"I like to refer to it as a food theme park," says Thomas Stohr, general manager of the Boston location who is leading the company's entry into the United States. Flagstone pathways dotted with trees lead diners around awning-covered carts and wooden tables that make up the food stations. Choices include the Grill & Rotisserie, Seafood and Raw Bar, Far East Station, Salad Table, Pasta Island, Pizza Oven, Bakery, Breakfast Isle, Coffee Bar and Fruit Tree.
Marche changes its menu daily and sometimes during the day to serve guests the best food it can get fresh and in season. Stations also change periodically. "It's a never-ending variety of food," Stohr says. "It should be possible for a person to eat five times a week at Marche without ever having the same dish twice."
Food station managers, each with a culinary background, are responsible for every detail, from menu planning and food presentation to employee management and profit. Other employees also play the part. For example, Stohr says, the Far East station is manned by Asian people who wear Asian-type clothes.
Upon entering Marche, customers are given a passport and taken to their choice of locations where a table is waiting. Their passports are stamped each time they choose an item from the food stations and are tallied when they are ready to leave.
Customers can stay at their table as long as they like, even if they just have some water while reading the newspaper, Stohr says. But he banks on the fact that the energy
present in the restaurant will entice everyone to buy. Employees shout out the specialties of the day, just as workers in an open-air market would yell to their patrons.
And, he continues, there are no kitchens. Customers can see and smell the food being prepared. "Marche is total interaction between everybody," Stohr says.
Marche's market-style dining has been popular throughout Europe, Canada, the Middle East and Asia, where today there are approximately 60 Marche restaurants. The concept itself was invented 16 years ago in Switzerland by Swiss-based
Movenpick Group, which owns and manages a number of hotels, resorts and restaurants in 18 countries. Under license from Movenpick, Toronto-based Richtree Inc. has exclusive rights to operate and franchise the concept in Canada and the United States. The Boston location opened late last year.
In addition to the Marche restaurant, which averages 20,000 sq. ft., there are three complementary food service operations. They include:
* Caveau, an 8,000 sq. ft. wine restaurant that offers a variety of wines, beer and spirits as well as lighter fare located in the Marche restaurants;
* Marchelino, or mini Marche, where items are still prepared before the customer but averages 2,500 sq. ft. and is suitable for a food court location or for take-out by customers; and
* Take Me! Marche, a 10,000 sq. ft. neighborhood food store that offers pre-packaged foods, groceries, meats, produce, wine, flowers, freshly baked bread and handmade chocolates.
All four operations have a spot at Boston's Prudential Center, making it the city's flagship location.
Richtree plans to enter new markets first with a flagship location, which can be the Marche restaurant alone or grouped with the others. The next two will be at the World Trade Center in New York, expected to open later this year, and Horton Plaza in San Diego, which will come on board next year, says Colin West, vice president of finance and CFO for Richtree.
Marche, which attracts everyone from business people to groups to families, is currently looking for urban sites that offer strong daytime business with the ability to build a nighttime business, West says. Future areas being targeted include Chicago, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Southern California.
"We want to manage expansion and growth in a manner that is appropriate," West says. "By the end of 2005, in the United States, I expect we will have five to 10 flagship locations." Once these have been established, the company expects to branch out into different venues that are best suited for each operation. "Sometime in the future," he says, "we are looking to franchise, which could accelerate growth."
Retail outlets: Marche, Caveau, Marchelino, Take Me! Marche
Headquarters: Richtree Inc./Movenpick Head Office, 111 Richmond St. W., Suite 1500, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5H 2G4; (416) 366-8122
Real estate contact: Colin West, vice president of finance and CFO
Number of units: 1 (combination of all four concepts)
Average size: Marche, 20,000 sq. ft.; Caveau, 8,000 sq. ft.; Marchelino, 2,500 sq. ft.; Take Me! Marche, 10,000 sq. ft.
Niche: market-style dining centered around fresh food prepared to order in full view of customers at a variety of internationally themed stations
Expansion plans: five to 10 flagship locations by the end of 2005