Welcome to our feature, The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tables.
When STK Atlanta and Cucina Asellina Director of Operations Marcus Marshall is in his restaurants, he is all business. He focuses on the details, making sure every guest is happy with their food, their drinks and their seat in these see-and-be-seen hot spots. "People go places where they know someone will take care of them," he said. "It's my job to get to know the regulars and the VIPs and make sure they are comfortable. I try to infuse the restaurants with a little bit of Atlanta culture as well."
What's your background? Where have you worked in Atlanta?
Before working with The ONE Group, I worked with Concentrics Restaurants for almost 10 years. I was the original GM for ONE. midtown kitchen, I ran Murphy's for several years, and was the Director of Restaurants for the Twelve Hotels. I also had an opportunity to work at several additional venues for Concentrics in Chicago and St. Louis. I first came to Atlanta in 1999 to work with John Metz, who owns Aqua Blue and Marlow's Taverns.
How long have you been working at STK and Cucina?
I was hired in October 2011 to open STK Atlanta and Cucina Asellina. These are the first restaurants for The ONE Group in Atlanta.
What's your favorite table in the restaurants?
I like table #214 at STK. It's to the left as you enter the carpeted area of the dining room. It's close to the DJ booth. It gives you a great vantage point of the dining room and the lounge area. At Cucina Asellina, I prefer to sit on the patio during this time of year. We have a great patio looking out onto the 12th & Midtown neighborhood and its dog-friendly.
What's your favorite thing on the current menu??
Well, the steaks are great! I like to order a 20 oz. bone-in ribeye, medium rare, béarnaise sauce on the side with a side of lobster mac 'n' cheese. Please, don't mention that to my wife! When I dine at Cucina Asellina I always enjoy the housemade pastas. My favorite is the pistachio garganelli. It has housemade sausage, wild mushrooms and a great sauce, very healthy.
It's 8 p.m. Saturday, can you walk in and get a table? If not, what's the wait??
Most likely not right away. The wait depends on the night. At STK we have a great lounge to get a cocktail or glass of wine while you wait. We even serve the full menu in the bar and lounge if you are unable to wait for a table or simply prefer to dine there. At Cucina Asellina, the bar has become a favorite spot to congregate and dine and drink, even when we do have tables available. I have been able to accommodate guests next door if one of the restaurants is busier than the other.
Do people ever try to slip you cash or anything for tables??
They do not. I will always encourage our guest to take care of our staff that works for gratuities.
Do you have regulars, and what are they like??
We are very fortunate and have developed a group of regulars in the short time we have been open. They are young, hip intown residents that like a great meal in a upscale, high energy environment. STK is the alternative to the stuffy steakhouses in town and Cucina Asellina is a great neighborhood restaurant with a big city feel.
Do you get a lot of celebrities coming here??
Yes, since Atlanta has become the "Hollywood of the South", we have been fortunate to host both celebrities that live in Atlanta or are visiting while working on feature films, television shows or projects. Many of them dine with us since they know our brand from New York and Los Angeles.
Anyone in particular that you remember??
A few come to mind including Denzel Washington, Kevin Bacon, Kim Kardashian, Jessica Alba, and Meg Ryan and John Cougar Mellencamp.
What happens if the restaurant is packed and a VIP comes in??
Fortunately, they usually call ahead. We do our best to get them seated in a timely manner. I did have a guest call one night to say that she had a national celebrity outside in a waiting car and she couldn't come in unless we had a table right away. I told her one wasn't available immediately. Being curious, I asked who the celebrity was. She said that she couldn't tell me "due to the paparazzi". Once we had a table available, they had left.
The best way to be a treated like a VIP at either of our restaurants is to be a regular guest. The more often you dine with us, the more important you are to us.
What's the most strangest request you've ever received from a customer??
Well I once had a famous local musician coming to dine and he requested to be seated with his back to the room. That way he didn't have to make eye contact with others and he would not be interrupted during dinner. I thought that was strange. I heard he did that a lot. If you are in the business and think you know who I am talking about come by the restaurant and guess. If you are right I'll buy you a drink.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
You gotta' love it! Passion is really a non-negotiable tool necessary for this job. Guests today have so many choices and are so sophisticated and informed. If you are not passionate about what you are doing it's obvious and they can tell. You will not be successful in this job if you do not love what you do.
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Photo courtesy of Sara Hanna Photography.